Before the Fall

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Chapter 19

“Alright, chica. How are we feeling?”

Gray looks up from the book she’s reading suspiciously. After Sara had tricked her into borrowing some clothes, Sara had caught her eyeing the book on Jason’s bedside table. It had intrigued Gray because it was an author she remembered--and gosh, it felt like dusting off some cobwebs when that memory floated to the surface--but a title she was unfamiliar with. That thought prompted a bit of an anxiety attack as Gray realized how much she had missed in the three years she’d been removed from the larger society. There were hundreds more bestselling books out, there were dozens of major movies that had been released, there were new government officials, there was new...everything.

There are so many elements to Gray’s reentrance to society that she hadn’t anticipated and that moment was not the first time Gray wondered if it would just be easier to stay a wolf. Sara had brilliantly brought her out of it by grabbing the book and steering her to the couch in the living room. Once seated, Sara dropped the book in Gray’s hands and declared it “silent time”, which was, really, “Gray’s emotional recovery time.” It took her a long time before any words on the page actually registered, but the reading wasn’t exactly the point. It was the feeling of privacy as Sara puttered around in the kitchen washing dishes, organizing this and that, clearing and washing the table. Eventually Sara migrated to the living room with Gray, but left her alone on the couch and claimed an armchair for herself to curl up on. She turned on the TV to low volume, and they’d been silent since then.

It seemed that Sara could be very intuitive and observant when she wasn’t completely overwhelmed or in emotional distress.

“Um, not bad. Better,” Gray decides, in answer to Sara’s question, a little confused. She still hasn’t quite been able to figure out Sara’s general thought trains. She seems to jump tracks frequently.

Sara smiles proudly. “Are you up for company?” When Gray tenses immediately, Sara lifts a placating hand. In a quiet, patient voice, she says, “Just my brothers, Gray. I told Forrest what you said about his eyes, and he was so grateful. He said he’d like to meet you, if you’re okay with it. And I heard Sage would also like to get to know you a little.”

Gray runs these thoughts around her mind for a moment. She’d already sort of met every member of the Atwood family, so none of them could be completely unfamiliar. Forrest had seemed the most wary of her, but apparently Sara had talked to him about things and it seems that he’s more agreeable now. And Sage...Sage tugs on her heartstrings for...a lot of reasons. She can’t say no to him.

The thought of it still intimidates her. She feels a little like an animal in a cage that people want to come see, but she can’t say no. “Okay, that’s fine.”

Sara’s eyes scrutinize her. “Would you want another buffer?”

Gray cocks her head in question

“Well, Jason’s at work, but I could have Slate come over too, or Asher. They’ll both know how to diffuse an awkward or tense situation.” When Gray doesn’t answer, Sara softens. “I’m here for you, homegirl. Is it Slate? His delicate sensibilities won’t be offended if you’re not ready to be around him yet.”

Gray snorts before she can help it. Surprising herself, she mutters, “Nothing about that man is delicate.”

Sara, for her part, doesn’t look surprised at all, just throws her head back and claps her hands twice as she laughs. “It doesn’t seem that way does it? He might surprise you though,” she smiles. “So what’s it gonna be? It’s all up to you.”

Gray looks down at her book and takes a minute to think. Slate really did seem okay last time with letting Sara and Jason take the reins. He didn’t seem bothered that she didn’t give him much attention at all. That by itself made her more comfortable because it meant she wouldn’t have to monitor him much. She felt that she could trust him to be unthreatening and not incite chaos or difficulty. And it wasn’t even that he’d just be a neutral party, it was more than that--it was more than likely that he’d be an actively calming presence for his brothers. But still, his very existence brings up a whole entanglement of emotions and possibilities, whether he means to or not.

Asher seemed to be able to take direction very well. He and Slate seemed to both work together to make things more comfortable for her. Similar to Slate, it wasn’t just that Asher didn’t make things more uncomfortable, but he actually did things to make it more comfortable. Asher wasn’t harmful, nor did he just take up space as a looming presence. He helped.

Gray looks up and nods decisively. Still nervous, but wanting to be confident in her choices. Feeling slightly guilty, she says, “Yes, Forrest, Sage, and Asher. Should be fine.”

“Cool,” Sara agrees easily. She shows no hint of which way she was hoping the conversation would go, just that she’s happy Gray chose what she wanted. “I’ll let them know.”

And that was how Gray began to have a pack again.

End Part 1

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