The Living and The Dead
The alarm clock next to my bed blared the unpleasant news that it was time to start another day. I cringed and moaned. Eyes screwed shut, I flailed my arm in its general direction, and my hand smacked the front until I found the snooze button. Silence fell. I inhaled slowly. But my reprieve would be short.
It had been six weeks since Lucky had threatened to call Leander if it didn’t get out of bed. And every day since then, I’d dutifully gotten up and gone to work and tried to pretend I was okay. But every day, instead of feeling better, I just felt worse.
Leander invaded my every thought. It didn’t matter whether I was awake or asleep. When my eyes were open, images of Leander’s tortured and incredulous expression at the moment he realized I knew about his mother waged war for the worst memory in my life against the pain in his violet and cerulean orbs just before he turned his back on me and walked away.
And when my eyes were closed, fate was even crueler because images of Leander’s smiling face danced behind my closed eyelids, intoxicating memories of the way he loved me, his delectable body moving against mine. Moments of joy I would never have again.
“Are you getting ready, Cinn?” Lucky called from behind my closed door.
Rubbing at my eyes, I forced them open. My head fell to the side, focusing on the time: 7:10 AM. In five more minutes, the snooze would go off, but Lucky had no intention of being ignored. His tone lowered into an unspoken warning, “Cinn, are you awake?”
“Yeah,” I grumbled, voice thick with sleep. “I’m awake.” I threw the covers back and gently rolled from the bed.
Standing beneath the warm shower spray, I stared down at my hands lovingly caressing my blossoming belly. It had been two and a half months since I’d said goodbye to Leander. I was halfway through my pregnancy. It was still hard to wrap my head around the fact that a little life was growing inside me. A tiny male or female I hadn’t even met yet but loved beyond words.
Abruptly, I felt a twinge low and deep in my womb. What was that? I gasped and held my breath. My heart thrummed in my chest as I waited. Maybe it had been nothing. Maybe it was just gas. But then it happened again, stronger...
That wasn’t nothing! It was most definitely something—my little one was making itself known.
Joy surged through me...
...followed almost instantly by profound sorrow.
I had no one to share this moment with.
My Wolf remained silent and Leander was gone from my life. Guilt ate away at me. Leander was many things but I knew without any doubt, he would be a good father. What would he say if he were here right now? I couldn’t stop the image from invading my mind—Leander’s eyes lighting up with excitement and awe as he dropped to his knees in front of me, both big paws holding gently to either side while he placed a tender kiss against my swollen belly.
The picture broke me. Tears welled in my eyes. A sob surged up my throat.
I’d cried so many tears. How could I even have any left?
I shoved the mental image away and robotically finished my shower.
When I was ready and dressed, I stepped out of my bedroom and made my way into the kitchen. Lucky sat on a tall stool eating his favorite cereal. I avoided direct eye contact, but I knew his keen gaze followed every move I made. Popping an English muffin into the toaster, I opened the refrigerator and pulled out the butter.
“You need more to eat then that,” Lucky said firmly. My belly had rounded but the rest of me had gotten markedly thinner. The knot of anxiety swirling in my stomach never went away making it impossible for me to keep food down. I’d been wearing larger clothing, hoping to conceal how much weight I lost, but of course, Lucky’d noticed.
“I can’t,” I whispered with my back to him.
He made a noise of disapproval. I tried not to flinch. I hated how disappointed he was in me.
Lifting from his stool, he walked to my side and wrapped his arms around my shoulders. Resting his chin on the top of my head, he murmured, “Go sit down. I’ll finish this and bring it to you.”
I didn’t have it in me to argue with him so just nodded my head. He released me and I settled on top of the stool next to his.
After a moment, the toast popped up. Placing it on a plate, he slathered it with butter, and then pulled a bottle of grape jam from the refrigerator. Walking back to my side, he placed both in front of me along with a small knife.
“Thank you,” I murmured, still avoiding eye contact.
“Uh huh,” Lucky acknowledged while pouring me a glass of ice-cold orange juice. He’d restricted my coffee intake, hesitant the caffeine wasn’t healthy for the little pup inside me.
When he finished, he returned to his seat. “Look at me, little sister.” His voice was gentle but there was an edge to it.
I took a deep breath in and then looked up, meeting his gaze. Intense absinthe orbs studied me carefully. “You’ve been crying.”
“Lucky, I’ve done what you said. I’ve gotten up and gone to work.” I tried to refocus his attention.
“And I’m proud of you for doing so,” he said softly. “That doesn’t mean I’m not still concerned about your emotional well-being. We need to talk about this. You need to talk about it. It’s not going to magically go away. You have to deal with it.”
“Don’t you think I’m trying?” my voice hitched. I stared down at the plate in front of me. It took so much damn effort just to get through every day.
“I can’t stand to see you struggle like this,” there was pain in his voice. “It isn’t good for the baby.”
I worked to keep my fingers from trembling as I added the purple jam to the bread. I didn’t know what to say so I kept silent.
He exhaled heavily, “I don’t want to threaten you with calling Leander again. But that means you’re going to have to open up to me whether you like it or not.”
I stiffened, anxiety running through me. Somehow, I knew it was just a matter of time before he threatened to call Leander again. My brother loved me which meant he would go to any extreme to keep me safe, even if it went against my wishes. I didn’t have any choice now but to talk to him. I said quietly, “What do you want to know?”
The tension in his shoulders relaxed a little. He was relieved I wasn’t fighting him. “Why don’t we start with why you were crying this morning?”
“I-I felt the baby kick,” I said barely above a whisper but it was loud enough for his advanced Wolf hearing.
“Really?” there was excitement in his voice, but then he paused. “But why did that make you cry?”
I blinked back tears. Speaking the words made it hurt so much more. I swallowed thickly. “Because h-he’s not here to share it with...and my Wolf...” I quit speaking, not wanting to reveal too much.
“How long has it been since you’ve heard from your Wolf?” Lucky asked.
My head snapped up. How did he know that? I’d never said anything. I had to tread carefully. I tried to act casual. “What do you mean?”
Lucky’s eyes narrowed. “You know exactly what I mean. She’s silent, isn’t she? She grieves for him.”
His words were like a knife through my heart. I took a stuttering breath. “A-A few months. She’ll come back to me...when the baby is born, she’ll see she has a reason to live.”
“A reason to live,” Lucky repeated flatly.
The silence between us stretched on, thick and heavy in the air. Unease curled through my stomach. I took a few bites of the English muffin, forcing myself to chew and swallow. Several minutes went by while we finished eating silently.
As soon as I swallowed the last of my orange juice, Lucky turned to face me with new determination in his expression. I tried to ready myself for his comments because I was pretty sure whatever he had to say wasn’t going to be easy and I was right.
“Mom and dad are dead, they’re gone, Cinn. Stop living for the dead. You have a mate who would die for you. He’s very much alive. He could take care of you. His pack has the best healers. I know you love him. I can see it in your eyes.”
His words hit me hard. There was so much to digest. “I don’t know how to do that,” I said thickly. My shoulders rolled in as I hunched forward. It was just too much to think about.
“We’ve got time before Tommy and Frank arrived. Come, sit with me.” Lucky held out his hand to help me down from the stool. I grasp his fingers. Once my feet were firmly planted on the floor, I followed him into the living space and we settled next to each other on the plush couch.
“Let’s remove Leander’s part in this from the picture for a moment so that we can deal with one thing at a time,” Lucky began.
“Okay,” I said hesitantly, unsure where he was going with this. I thought the whole point was about Leander.
“Part of grieving is acceptance. But many people reject this stage because their grief has become such a tangible physical connection to those they lost that they don’t want to give it up.”
My brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“I’m talking about the way our brains associate things,” he explained patiently. “When we first lose someone, the hurt and pain are immense, unbearable. But, like it or not, we have no choice, so we endure. But then something happens over time. When we get to the stage of possible acceptance, sometimes, we cling to the hurt and pain simply because that feeling is now so connected to the person we lost that we don’t want to let it go. It becomes an unhealthy connection to the past.”
I listened carefully to his words. I was beginning to understand.
“Let your memories, not your pain, be the thing that connects you to mom and dad.”
What he said made sense. I studied the firm set up his jaw and his intense absinthe eyes. “When did you become so smart?”
Sadness clouded his expression. “Experience taught me well.”
I swallowed thickly. Yes, he had lost just as much as I had.
Could I actually let go of the grief I clung so tightly to? Did I want to? I said quietly, “There’s guilt in letting go, isn’t there?”
Lucky nodded his head. There was approval in his eyes. “Yes, there can be. But letting go of the pain doesn’t mean you are betraying their memory. Do you think mom and dad would want you to go through your life overwhelmed with grief and pain?”
No, I didn’t think that.
“I think you’re trying to live in the past because that’s the only place where our parents are alive. But at some point, you’re going to have to let go of the past if you ever want to have a future.”
He made it sound so easy. But inside my heart and head, I just wasn’t sure.
“Cinn, like it or not, even though you never marked him, Leander is your mate and your connection to him runs deeper than any other tie you will experience, including that of our parents. It is what it is. Trying to ignore it doesn’t change anything.”
His words tore me up inside because I knew he spoke the truth. “And you think if I let go of the past, I’ll be able to accept Leander even though he was the one that killed them?”
Lucky’s expression tightened. He thought about it for a moment and then nodded. “Yes, I do.”
“Would you be able to?” I whispered. “If it had been your mate that killed them, could you forget the past and love her?”
There was no hesitation in his response, just resoluteness. “Yes. Cinn, finding your mate...” His Adam’s apple moved as he swallowed thickly. “I would give anyth...” he couldn’t continue.
My heart twisted. More than anything, Lucky’s soul burned to find his mate. I’d found mine...and I’d walked away. “I wish I had your strength,” I whispered. “What if I’m never able to let go of the past?”
“Then you have a decision to make. What’s more important to you? You know Leander had no choice in the matter. I would have done the exact same thing had the roles been reversed. You’ve chosen to hold onto the past at the sacrifice of your Wolf and your happiness. Is it worth it?”
When he said it like that, it didn’t sound like a good decision. Tears trailed down my cheeks. Had I made a terrible mistake?
Lucky continued softly, “If a sacrifice has to be made between the two, if, in your mind, you can’t have both: on one side, is honoring the memory of our parents but on the other, is honoring the sacred bond of your Wolf and happiness with your mate, should you really sacrifice the living so you can hold on to the dead?”
My tears flowed harder. Lucky scooted closer and gathered me in his arms. He murmured into my hair, “I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. I’m just saying you need to see both sides. What does sacrificing your own happiness prove? Not to mention, the happiness of your pup. He or she doesn’t deserve to grow up without a father.”
“I don’t know if I’m strong enough.” My shoulders shook as I sobbed. “And even if I am, what if it’s too late? Lucky, in the end, Leander walked away from me. The minute he knew I was aware of how his mother died, something changed in him. I felt it.”
Lucky tightened his hold. “You’ve got to try to let go of the past...for the sake of your happiness, your Wolf and your unborn child. If you can do that, I’m certain you and Leander can make it work. It’s never too late, not when it’s your mate.”