Isabelle got Ezekiel in faster than he thought she would. He had secretly been hoping she’d give him a few days before having him come in. But here he was, not even two days after talking to Gabriel. Her office smelled like lavender and had a few landscape prints hanging on the walls. A picture of Vince and Trevor lying in the grass sat on her desk next to a pitcher of ice water with lemons floating in it. Trevor had been the one to greet them at the door. He mentioned Gabriel maybe stopping by later, then took Cole to the backyard to play.
Ezekiel sat stiffly on the black leather couch, his hands tapping softly on his knees. He wondered if he should just leave, his eyes wandering to the closed door.
Isabelle threw open the window behind her desk, “Sorry it’s so stuffy in here, the air isn’t working right today.”
“It’s alright.” Ezekiel shrugged trying to fight off the regret.
“Would you like a glass of water?” She offered, when he shook his head, she sat down in the office chair across from him,
“Okay, we’re all set. Sorry again for the wait. How was the drive here?”
Ezekiel shrugged again, “It was fine. Not many people on the road. Cole had a lot to tell me, made the drive seem...”
“Shorter?” Isabelle smiled.
“Longer,” Ezekiel finished, then shook his head, “No, he’s a good kid. I’m amazed at everything he’s taking in and learning.” He allowed himself a small smile.
Isabelle leaned back in her chair, folding her hands over her knee, “How are you feeling about being a father?”
Ezekiel looked at her for a moment, then down to the floor. He interlaced his fingers, cracking them one by one, “It’s not something I had ever considered myself being. I pretty much helped raised Gabriel, but I wouldn’t ever say I was a father figure to him. More like an older brother,” He hesitated, his ears lowering back, “I’m just worried my past may affect Cole negatively.”
Isabelle rested her elbow on the arm of her chair, “What do you think is going to affect Cole?”
The clock above his head ticked, and the smell of lavender was starting to feel overwhelming. Ezekiel sighed, suddenly feeling put on the spot. He didn’t want to talk about his past, he didn’t want to talk about the things bothering him. This wasn’t anyone’s business but his own. His jaw tightened, then relaxed. This isn’t just about you, he reminded himself.
Isabelle watched him patiently. She had met him shortly after the war ended and, through Gabriel, knew much of what the young Drakon had been through. Not because Gabriel intentionally told her about Ezekiel’s issues, but because the Lycan’s own nightmares and pain stemmed from some of the same events.
“I don’t want my...my...” Ezekiel breathed out heavily, “I’m not good at talking about things. This isn’t my thing.” He ran his hand across his eyes, “I have nightmares and anxiety. I don’t want those things to mess him up. I don’t know what I have already passed on to him either. The kid is too innocent to be messed up by me.”
“Ezekiel, you’re not going to mess Cole up. I can see how protective you are of him.” Isabelle reassured.
“No, that’s not what I meant,” Ezekiel shook his head, “Drakons can pass down memories to their children. I can’t remember Cole’s birth, so I have no idea what passed down to him or what didn’t.” His words tumbled out almost frantically.
Isabelle stood up slowly and moved over to her desk. She pulled out two glasses and filled them with the water on the desk. She walked over to Ezekiel and handed him a glass before sitting back down. It wasn’t until the glass was in his hands, that Ezekiel realized he was shaking and his mouth had gone dry. He took a slow sip.
“I can monitor Cole for you if you’d like? Talk to him and just keep an eye open for anything.” She suggested as Ezekiel slowly drank down half the glass.
Ezekiel pulled the glass away from his mouth, breathing in deeply through his nose. Slowly he let it out and nodded, “Yeah. That sounds like a good idea.” He hated feeling so out of control of his life.
Isabelle put a hand on his knee, “Zeke,” She said softly, “We will go at your pace with this. You don’t need to rush talking about anything.”
Ezekiel flinched away from Isabelle’s hand and stood up, his face pale, “I need to go outside.” He said hurriedly, leaving the room. Once in the hall, he hesitated, trying to catch his bearings. He was sure he was going to lose his lunch with the way his stomach was turning. Hurrying to the front door, he pulled it open, feeling relief as the cool air hit his face. He stepped out, pulling the door shut behind himself. His stomach settled as he focused on breathing. Taking a deep breath he leaned against the wall just outside the door.
He startled, lifting his head finding Raine walking up the walkway.
She stopped a couple feet away, her eyes wide with concern, “I was uh... I was just coming to see Belle,” She pointed at the door, then shoved her hands in her sweatshirt’s pockets, “Are you okay?”
Ezekiel didn’t miss the blush that crept over her cheeks. Fleetingly, he wondered why and why his heart was suddenly in his throat. Shaking his head, he straightened up, pushing away from the wall.
“Yeah, just needed some air. Isabelle is inside.” He moved away from the door, keeping her in front of himself as he started towards the backyard.
“Are you leaving?”
He stopped, looking down at her.
Raine took a few steps towards the door, “Are you leaving?” She repeated pushing open the door and stopped in the doorway.
“I’m... I’m going to go get my son, he’s in the back.” Ezekiel said folding his arms over his chest.
“It’s faster through the house, you’ll walk forever that way,” She smiled shyly, “I’ll show you?”
Ezekiel looked over his shoulder at the expansion of green grass and house. It was a lot bigger than he realized. The building was a combination of home, business, and offices. Much of it was occupied by Isabelle’s family company. Her parents were both well-established scientists, while she had a PhD in the medical field. In short, money was never an object for Isabelle, and she liked to flaunt it.
He looked back to Raine, “Sure.” He dropped his hands to his sides and followed her into the house, keeping a few paces behind.
Raine backed up to walk beside the Drakon, looking up at him curiously. She opened her mouth to say something, when Isabelle walked out of an office a few doors down from them.
“Ezekiel,” She said walking towards them, “I wanted to,” She paused, noticing Raine standing alongside him, “Oh, hi Raine! I didn’t forget our shopping trip, but would you excuse me for a minute?” She smiled politely.
“Yeah, no problem,” Raine smiled back, “I’ll be out back.” She looked up at Ezekiel, “See you ’round.” She gave him a half wave before continuing down the hall, disappearing around the corner.
Isabelle waited for the Lycan to be out of ear shot before she turned to Ezekiel, “Mind stepping into the office for a minute?” She asked, heading back to the room she had come out of.
Ezekiel hesitantly followed her into the room, his arms folded tightly against his chest. Isabelle rummaged through her desk pulling out a planner.
She looked up at Ezekiel, “Would you mind coming back in a week with Cole? I’ll talk to you both then, and if you’re up for it, we can do another one on one session after.” She picked up a pen, crossing things off.
Ezekiel swallowed, “I guess so. What day?” He watched her scribble something down and cross something else out.
“How about next Thursday, and if you can, Saturday? It seems like a lot to ask, but I’m pretty sure you’re experiencing some pretty strong PTSD.” She looked up at him sympathetically.
Nodding, Ezekiel looked away, “I know. They diagnosed me with it in the hospital years ago.” He frowned, his eyes focusing on something Isabelle couldn’t see.
“I’d prescribe you something for the anxiety, but I don’t know Drakon physiology yet. I need to collect some blood samples from you and go from there. Is that something you’re interested in?”
“Medication?” Ezekiel looked back at her skeptically, “I don’t know. I never felt right on it.”
Isabelle nodded, “I understand. We can go over some alternative methods in helping. We need to talk a little more before I even know what exactly to give you.” She looked back at her planner and wrote something down.
Ezekiel shoved his hands into his pockets, “Thursday and Saturday will work. I’d rather not do medication though.”
“No problem,” Isabelle smiled, “Noon okay?” He nodded and she quickly wrote it down, closed the planner and put it away,
“Let’s go out back.”
He followed her out of the room and down several hallways to a glass sliding door. She pulled it open and they stepped outside onto a large wooden deck that opened up to a well-manicured yard. Ezekiel admired how the yard looked like it stretched on forever.
Vince and Raine were watching the kids play in the pool designed to look like a pond with a waterfall. The area was surrounded with foliage, and large slabs of rock for climbing on to jump into the water from. Cole sat at the edge of the water, his feet dipped in. Trevor sat next to him soaking wet, the two laughing together. At the sound of the door closing, Cole looked up and grinned at Ezekiel.
He jumped to his feet excitedly, “Father!” He laughed, running to him. Ezekiel caught him, scooping him up to his chest and hugged him. The anxiety he had felt earlier fading away as Cole hugged him back tightly. He was starting to see why Gabriel had such an easy time falling into his role as father. He couldn’t help but smile when Cole leaned back and smiled at him.
“I’m hungry!” Cole chirped.
Ezekiel lifted an eyebrow, “You’re hungry?” He ruffled Cole’s hair, making the boy squeal and giggle, “Well, we better get you something to eat then.”
Isabelle smiled watching the two interact. She noticed the tension visibly leaving Ezekiel as he played with Cole and made a mental note, “I’ll see you two next week.” She ruffled the boy’s hair.
Cole smiled at her, “Okay!”
“Thanks, Isabelle,” Ezekiel said turning to the door, “Say bye, Cole.”
Cole waved at everyone, “Bye!” He shouted as Ezekiel carried him into the house.
After the door shut, Isabelle made her way over to Vince and Raine watching Trevor jump into the pool with a large splash. She smiled and shook her head as the boy emerged from the water with an excited shout.
“Hey, Raine,” She greeted her friend, “Sorry about that. Was just finishing up,” She hugged the girl, “I missed you though!”
“It’s okay! I was a little early.” Raine shrugged, hugging her back and laughed, “I missed you too!”
Vince rolled his eyes, “It’s only been a week.”
Isabelle turned to him, her arm still slung around Raine’s shoulders, “Hey tough guy, we’re going to go shopping. Can you hold down the fort?”
“What does that even mean, woman?” Vince scowled, his eyebrows furrowed together in confusion.
Raine laughed, “We’re going out and you stay here and make sure Trevor doesn’t break anything.” She nudged Vince’s arm.
Vince rolled his eyes, “Why didn’t she just say that?” He grumbled, folding his arms across his chest.
Isabelle leaned over, kissing him on the lips, “Be good.”
“Yeah, yeah. Go and do your women things. I’ll be here when you return,” He kissed her back, “Have fun.” He winked, smiling at her as she walked away.
Raine waved to Trevor as she made her way to the house, “Where do you want to go to first?” She asked over her shoulder to Isabelle as she slid open the door.
“I want to look at shoes,” Isabelle followed Raine into the house, closing the door behind her, “Okay,” She said conspiringly, making Raine immediately feel suspicious, “Will you do me a favor?” She asked as they walked.
Raine knew that look, her tail twitched nervously, “...what kind of favor?” She folded her arms insecurely, stopping to lean against the wall.
“Oh, come on,” Isabelle took her arm, pulling her further into the house, “It’s not that bad!”
Following along, Raine looked at Isabelle skeptically, “Really? 'cause anytime you start a sentence with ‘will you do me a favor’ it always seems to end badly for me.”
Isabelle giggled, “Nooo!” She feint pouted, making Raine shake her head at her.
“Yeeesss,” Raine drawled out, “Every time.”
They made their way into the garage, pausing only for Isabelle to grab her purse and keys, “When?” She asked, looking up from her purse.
Raine leaned against the car, “That one time before you got with Vince,” She rocked back onto her heels, “You asked me to follow you on your date with Mr. ‘Perfect’,” She made air quotes with her fingers, “And I got arrested because the guy freaked out thinking I was a stalker.”
Isabelle looked at her thoughtfully for a moment then unlocked the car, “You did look cute in that mug shot.” She grinned, climbing into the car.
Raine grinned back at her, immediately flipping through radio stations once the car was turned on, “I still have it hung up in the living room.”
Isabelle laughed out loud, “I know! I saw it the last time I came over. That’s awesome.”
Giving Isabelle a cocky look, Raine nodded with a laugh, “It is. I don’t know why you let it even get that far,” She eyed Isabelle, then turned down the radio and leaned back in her seat, “Then there was that time you asked me to try that new place with you.”
“That!” Isabelle pointed at her, punctuating the word, “Was not a favor! That was lunch!”
Raine looked at her smugly, “It was still your idea.”
“Oh, shush!” Isabelle shook her head, “Okay, fine! You don’t have to do me a favor. Sheesh. I was just trying to be nice.” She stuck her lips out in a half pout.
“Food poisoning for a week,” Raine giggled nudging Isabelle’s arm, “Well, at least tell me what I’m turning down?” She rolled down the window and stuck her arm out, letting the wind carry her hand up and down.
Isabelle shook her head slowly, “No.” She grumped looking at Raine out of the side of her eyes.
“Aw, Izzy,” Raine pulled her hand in the window, “Come on, tell me what you wanted.” She grinned, rolling up the window.
“No, you hurt my feelings.” Isabelle stuck her bottom lip out as far as it’d go.
Raine smiled in amusement, “What feelings?”
Gasping dramatically, Isabelle’s jaw dropped, “Hey! I have feelings!” She leaned forward gripping the steering wheel, “Sort of... Okay, fine, I’ll tell you.”
“Oh yay!” Raine laughed, turning in her seat so she faced Isabelle, “So... what’s this ‘favor’?” She made air quotes.
Isabelle changed the radio station, “You like Ezekiel, right?” She smiled sweetly.
Raine’s eyebrows shot up, “Ezekiel?” She pressed her lips together, “Well... Yeah? But we’re not really friends-”
“No,” Isabelle cut her off, “Like him. You know,” She wiggled her eyebrows, “Like you wanna do him.”
Immediately flushing bright red, Raine looked at Isabelle speechlessly, “Wh-what!?” She leaned back in her seat, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She looked away, avoiding Isabelle’s accusing glances.
Isabelle laughed turning to Raine at a red light, “Don’t lie to me! You do!” She nodded, “You so wanna do him!”
“Izzy!” Raine shook her head, “How is this a favor!?” She narrowed her eyes at Isabelle, “I’m not filming a porn for you.” Her voice came out in a calm whisper, surprising even her with how seriously she managed to say it.
Looking back at the road, Isabelle laughed hysterically, “Oh my god! How did you know!?”
Raine, unable to hold it back anymore, broke down into laughter, “Shut up!” She glanced at Isabelle, unable to keep a straight face with her anymore, “Come on, tell me!” She said in between fits of giggles.
Isabelle smirked at her, keeping her eyes on the road, “Well now I have to tell the other two guys you’re out.”
“Izzy!” Raine stuck her tongue out at her, “You’re so full of crap!” She grinned, “Did this really have to do with Ezekiel? Or was this another roundabout way of asking me something else?”
Isabelle shrugged, “Maybe,” She sang, glancing at Raine from the corner of her eye, then smirked, “Seriously though. I was thinking maybe you could talk to Ezekiel. I got the idea when I saw you two together this afternoon.”
Raine’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion, “Talk to him about what?”
Looking at Raine quickly, Isabelle rolled her eyes, “You know, try to get to know him better and talk about your PTSD with him.”
“Oh, Belle,” Raine’s face fell slightly, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” She looked out the window, watching a car speed past them, “Dick.” She mumbled.
“Hey, that’s not nice.” Isabelle frowned.
Raine looked at her quickly, “Not you, the,” She pointed to the car cutting Isabelle off, “That guy.”
Scoffing, Isabelle slowed down, “Oh, yeah, he is a dick.” She took the next exit, “Why don’t you think it’s a good idea?”
Isabelle looked at Raine seriously, “You know, with Ezekiel?”
“I don’t know the guy.” Raine shifted in her seat uneasily.
“That hasn’t stopped you before.”
Snorting, Raine leaned her head back against the headrest, “Izzy!” She yelled, giggling, “Stop your mouth!”
Laughing, Isabelle parked the car and unbuckled, turning to Raine, “No! I won’t,” She nudged Raine, “I know you like him and this could be a good way for you two to connect.”
“That wasn’t really a secret... You know so much about me that I’ll probably have to kill you if we stopped being friends.” She folded her arms across her chest.
“So you’re in then?”
Unbuckling, Raine gave Isabelle a pleading look, “I’ve tried talking to him. I don’t think he has any interest in me, or in anyone for that matter.”
“You’re being too hard on yourself,” Isabelle said softly, “You two have a lot in common. You could really both help each other. As friends in the very least.”
Raine turned away, opening the car door, “Look at me, Belle,” She climbed out of the car, Isabelle following suit, “Do you really think I’m his type? As friends or anything else?” She closed the door, stepping around the car to where Isabelle stood.
Isabelle looked her over in confusion, not sure what she was supposed to be seeing, “What?”
Raine took her tail in her hands, smoothing it down, “I’m a Lycanthrope, for one.” She frowned, running her fingers through its thick fur.
“So? I’m Human, Vince is Lycanthrope, Gabriel is Lycanthrope and Valery is Human... What’s your point?” Isabelle tilted her head to the side.
Raine looked at her pointedly, “Ezekiel is Drakon,” She said slowly then shook her head, “I was on the wrong side of the war for too long.”
Shaking her head, Isabelle looped her arm through Raine’s, leading her towards the mall’s entrance, “That was, what… fifteen years ago? We were kids then, hon.”
“Oh, okay, I’ll let the nightmares know that,” Raine rolled her eyes, dodging a man exiting the store with a handful of bags,
“Dear nightmares, I was only 14 when I killed that man, please stop reoccurring every night. Thanks.” Sarcasm dripped from her voice as she folded her arms tightly across her chest hoping Isabelle didn’t notice the trembling in her hands.
Isabelle shot her an apologetic look, “I know… I know...” She sighed softly, Raine’s words sinking in, “I still wake up some nights trying to patch up Vince,” She smiled sadly, “But I meant... It wouldn’t be too weird for you two to be together.” She led them over to the shoe department, absently looking at a pair of black heels.
Raine stood by idly, “You don’t think so?” She chewed on her lower lip, her eyes scanning the room, “I dunno, Belle,” She took a deep breath, looking at Isabelle flatly, “Do you think a guy like him would date a Lycanthrope, let alone a fat chick?” She said bluntly picking up a boot.
Dropping the heel, Isabelle looked at Raine with wide eyes, “You’re not fat!” She hissed rearranging the few shoes she accidentally knocked over.
“I’m not in denial over it, Isabelle. I could lose a good fifty pounds to be at a healthy weight.” Raine handed Isabelle a shoe from the floor.
Isabelle stepped away from the display, “Well you don’t look it,” She looked at Raine with slight annoyance, then sighed, “You know that’s Stuvock talking, there’s nothing wrong with you.”
Pressing her lips together, Raine turned away, “Sure.”
“It is. I’m glad you left that asshole. You deserve so much better.” Isabelle nudged Raine’s shoulder gently before turning towards a rack of shirts.
“Annnd, you’re thinking that would be Ezekiel, right?” Raine leaned in front of the shirt Isabelle was looking at, “Why would me getting with Ezekiel be doing you a favor anyway?”
Looking up from the shirt, Isabelle shrugged, “I just think it’d help both of you.” She pulled the shirt off the rack and held it up to Raine.
Taking the shirt, Raine made a face, “Do you know what the word ‘favor’ actually means?” She handed the shirt back, “What’s in it for you?”
With a sigh, Isabelle pulled Raine into an empty isle, “I talked to Gabriel before Ezekiel’s appointment. His whole life is going through a ton of changes right now, and he’s not going to be around for a bit. He’s worried about Ezekiel and everything that’s happened to him recently.”
“Oh,” Raine turned her attention to a dress hanging near them, “Isn’t this breaching your patient confidentiality contract, or something?”
Taking the dress from Raine, Isabelle shook her head, “No, he told me this as friends. He said he was worried about Ezekiel, especially with Cole now in the picture. He wanted me to talk to you about getting to know him better.”
Raine leaned back slightly, her eyebrows drawing together, “Gabriel said this to you?” She asked skeptically.
“Yes,” Isabelle nodded, “It was his idea.”
A moment of silence passed between them as Raine waited for some kind of punch line, “Really?” She squinted, “Really? You two are in on this together?”
“Well, no,” Isabelle bit her lip, “Yes. Kind of. You know I suck at secrets!” She babbled, covering her mouth.
“Uh huh,” Raine smirked, “I’m not sure why either of you think that’s a good idea. Ezekiel doesn’t need a babysitter, he is a grown man.”
Isabelle tilted her head to the side, “Don’t pretend you don’t like this idea. You’re just scared about actually getting to know the guy you’ve been crushing on for years.”
Raine’s jaw dropped open slightly, “Izzy,” She giggled nervously, “Why do you hate me?”
“Because I love you.” Isabelle smiled innocently.
Raine rolled her eyes, “Well, it’s not like I could do anything about it then,” She dodged the look Isabelle gave her then nodded, “Okay... I’ll try- BUT,” She held her hand up, cutting Isabelle off, “If he’s not into being friends, then I’m not going to force myself on him.”
Isabelle grinned, “Yay! Thank you!” She hugged Raine before skipping off back to the shoe department. Raine hesitated for a moment then laughed softly following her.