Emerson blinked at the man before her. It was if the Fates were mocking her today, giving her the third shock of her life in less than twelve hours. First, she found out Jordan was JoJo, then she found out that her childhood rival was now gifted with faerie magic, though she didn't tell her that.
And now, standing before her was the man she let go of all those years ago.
Mekhi couldn't believe his eyes, either. It had been years since he last saw Emerson, and come to find out, she knows his soon-to-be-family pretty well.
"How are you?" he asked her softly. He payed no attention to the gape coming from his fiancée. His only focus was now on Emerson.
"I'm, uh, I'm okay. How are you? How's your mother?" she replied. Her voice was thick and she fought back the tears from her eyes. Unlike Mekhi, she was completely and utterly aware of the stares being thrown her way, and she was growing more uncomfortable by the minute. Nicholas was more confused than anything, but Avery and Jordan looked as if they were slowly putting the pieces together, whatever they may be.
"She passed. Last year, actually."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Mekhi. She was a wonderful woman. I'm sorry I couldn't be there for her."
Avery ripped them from their conversation. "I take it you two know each other?"
Emerson side-eyed the woman, unsure of how to answer, but Mekhi beat her to it. "Yes. Very well."
Avery crossed her arms over her chest. "Care to elaborate on this?"
Mekhi scratched his beard uncomfortably, and looked at his fiancée, then back to Emerson, who looked just about uneasy as he did. He never imagined he would have this this conversation with Avery, let alone with the other woman standing right in front of him.
"I met Emerson when I first moved here," he answered coolly. He figured that would've been enough of an answer, but Emerson knew that wasn't going to be good enough to sate Avery's curiosity, or her anger.
"When you moved here three years ago? How did that happen?"
"No, ah," he shifted on his feet. "Can we go talk about this privately?"
Avery shook her head. "I need both of you here. It's as much as her story as yours, and I need my father and brother here to make sure I don't rip your head off."
"Then can we move to the couch? It's a long story."
Avery agreed and the five of them wandered into the living room awkwardly, none of them saying a word. Nicholas was still confused, but he noted his father looked satisfied in whatever was happening. They all sat down, smushed together on the furniture, when Mekhi faced Avery.
He grabbed her hands. "I didn't...move here three years ago."
"What do you mean?" she asked slowly.
"I've been here for six years. I moved to the city three years ago, yes, but I lived on the outskirts in Chestnut, with...Emerson," he said every word slowly and meticulously, as if trying not to break his lover's heart, and watched her expression as he talked.
Her face fell and she looked to the woman sitting next to her fiancé. "You lived with Mekhi?"
Emerson pursed her lips. "For a time, yes."
Emerson shot Mekhi a look. "I'll let you handle that one."
Mekhi took a deep breath and squeezed Avery's hands. "Emerson and I were...together."
Avery shot up from her seat. "You were together? Are you serious right now? You never told me you were with another woman!"
"Christ, Ave, I'm 32 years old. Did you think I was a virgin when I met you?"
Emerson cringed and Avery's eyes flashed. "You slept with her?"
"Avery, wait," he started, but Avery cut him off.
"You told me that I was your first love. Was that a lie too?"
Mekhi didn't answer. He had dug himself into a hole, a hole too deep to climb out of, and now he had to deal with the consequences. "This isn't how I wanted this to go."
Avery scoffed. "Yeah, I'm sure it isn't. I'm sure you just wanted me to tell you it was okay you've lied to me for the past three years, am I right?"
"I haven't been lying!" he shouted, then pinched the bridge of his nose. "Em, a little help here?"
"Oh, no," Avery spat out. "I don't want to hear anything from her."
"Look, Avery," Emerson said. "If you would just hear us out, it isn't as bad as you think it is."
"Not as bad? I just found out my fiancé was with another woman before me and I've just found out, three years into our relationship. How long did you think you could keep this from me?"
Mekhi went silent. It was never his intention to hide his past from Avery, but truth be told, she never asked. And he never asked her about her past, either. He didn't want to know who she had been with, and he assumed it was the same for her.
"Avery," he said. "I came out here after my mom got sick."
Avery stopped in her tracks and turned to look at him. "W-What? When was your mom sick?"
"Six years ago," he answered. "It isn't something I like to talk about, but once she was diagnosed, I...I just left. I came out here and ended up in Chestnut. It was in the middle of winter and I ended up falling into Sanguine Spring. Emerson saved me."
"Sanguine Spring?" Nicholas interjected. "The fae spring?"
"I'd really appreciate it if you'd refrain from calling it the fae spring, wolf," Emerson said dryly. "But he's right. I visit there often, and the Spring gets ruthless in the winter, and Mekhi ended up falling in. He's lucky I was the one who found him. Had it been Jezebel..." she trailed off.
"Anyway, I took him to my place and let him stay there. He told me what happened and why he was there, and I told him about Sanguine. He's also the first human I revealed myself to. I completely forget to glamour after we left the Spring."
Avery stared at Emerson, then to Mekhi. "Is that it?"
Mekhi paused, then glanced to Emerson. "Not quite."
Avery sat back down and clenched her teeth. "What else is there?"
"I won't lie to you and tell you nothing happened," he sighed. "But it wasn't like you think. We weren't in love or anything, at least, Emerson wasn't."
Everyone turned to look at Emerson. "What?"
Mekhi cleared his throat. "It started off as a...mutually beneficial thing. For years, I stayed with her and we would do our thing, she would hunt, I would cook, it was perfect. No strings attached. Then I fell in love with her. It was stupid of me to confess, actually. I've never heard of a fae/human relationship successfully working out, but I couldn't help it. I told her and she...she shot me down.
"I left after that, and that's when I met you, Avery. I decided to continue my life in Selal, and forget about what happened in Chestnut. I don't even think about it. Had Em not shown up, I probably would've forgotten about it altogether."
Avery chewed the inside of her cheek. "It was...just sex?"
"Just sex," Emerson piped in. "Fae might love humans, but we don't tend to fall in love with them. It's very rare to a fae to mate outside their species. It's almost unheard of."
"And you don't hate her, Mekhi?"
"How could I?" he traced Avery's cheek with his thumb. "Her rejection led me to you. It let me to finding what true love is."
Avery looked down at the floor and fidgeted with her fingers. "I, uh, I'm sorry I overreacted. It was so long ago, and I wasn't even in your life back then. It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn't help but feel..."
"Jealous?" Emerson suggested.
"Emerson, shut up," Nicholas hissed.
"What? I'm just trying to help."
Jordan snorted. "Yeah, right. That's enough sadness for today. Have you decided if you're going with them, Avery?"
Avery's eyebrows furrowed. "What are you talking about?"
"To find the mage, you ditz," Emerson said. "Are you coming or not?"
"Oh, uh," she looked at Mekhi. "Can I?"
"You don't have to ask permission, Ave. If you want to go, then go. I can't go help you guys find whoever the hell it is you're looking for, but if it's something you want to do, I'm not going to stop you."
Avery smiled. "Thank you. That reminds me. Emerson, who did you say we were getting help from?"
"Oh now you want to talk to me," she answered sarcastically. "We're getting help from my sisters."
"You have sisters?" Avery asked.
"How are Jezebel and Amethyst? It's been awhile since I've seen them," Mekhi said.
"Really?" Avery shot at him.
"Sorry, sorry. It's just...habit."
"They're good," Emerson replied, not bothering to acknowledge to weirdness surrounding the couple. "Amethyst is Queen now and Jezebel is just trying to sink her teeth into whatever poor lose walks by."
Nicholas made a face. "She won't...be like that with us, will she?"
Emerson side-eyed him. "You? Maybe not. You reek like a wolf. Your sister on the other hand..."
"That's it, she's not going," his words were clipped.
Emerson laughed. It was a quiet, musical sound that made everyone perk up instantaneously. It was her first real time laughing since she left her house, and all four of them noticed immediately. "I'm kidding. She won't bother you guys. She'll be more focused on me."
"Why you?" Avery scrunched up her nose.
"Uh, because I'm her favorite sister?"
"Oh, what, out of two? That's not much of an accomplishment, you know."
"Oh I'm sorry, did Nicholas never tell you that you were his favorite? I think that really put a damper on your self confidence, sweetie."
"He doesn't need to tell me I'm his favorite, I'm irreplaceable."
"Yeah, after years of ignoring him? I'm sure. Does your hubby think you're irreplaceable too?"
They shot insults at each other back and forth, though no one tried to stop them. It seemed fitting, normal, to have the two women claw at each other's neck.
It was almost like...a family.