Zachariah Meadows arrives in a taxi to pick up me and Jackson from the hospital a day later. Exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and brimming with anger over everything that has occurred, I watch the rain fall outside the taxi with the knowledge that the smoke—the embers—of my old life are finally dying down.
And thus begins the next chapter of your existence.
Life after my parents.
We ride in silence. Save the radio, not a sound can be heard. For that, I am thankful, if only because I do not know what I would say.
Jackson’s hand slips against mine. His fingers stiffen.
I roll my wrist over to take his palm within mine.
It feels like a natural action after everything that has occurred, after everything he has done. Considering he’s saved me not once, but twice, I feel as if I owe him something.
He doesn’t want anything, though, I am quick to think. You know that.
Deep down, I do know that. And yet… a part of me wonders if there’s some kind of moral code you’re supposed to follow after someone saves your life.
After a moment’s consideration, I close my eyes and lean my head against the cool window.
All Jackson has ever wanted was to be was a friend.
Beyond initially thinking that he was perhaps the most beautiful young man I’d ever lain eyes upon, I just wanted to try my best with him. But now?
Now, I think, you feel something.
A spark. Chemistry. Biology skewed by grief.
Just why do I feel I need him?
I tighten my grip on his hand as we turn onto the old dirt road that used to lead to two homes, but now only leads to one, and find myself vibrating with grief.
“It’s okay,” Jackson whispers.
“Oh,” the cab driver says. “It’s… here.”
“Yes,” Zachariah Meadows says as we pull up alongside the Meadows family home. “Jackson—will you take Oaklynn inside while I pay?”
“Yes, sir,” Jackson says.
I let myself out.
I try my hardest not to look at the remnants of what used to be my home, but find that I can’t help but stare at the same time.
The blackened beams. The misshapen metal. The porch in pieces, the bricks strewn about.
Thankfully, the rain falls hard enough to hide my tears.
“Come on,” Jackson says. “Let’s go.”
He leads me up the porch and to the front door, then unlocks it and ushers me through the threshold.
Inside, I wrap my arms around myself, then turn to face him. “Where’s Belle?” I ask.
“She’s in your room,” he says.
I blink as I allow the words to sink in.
Here. In Jackson’s home.
I shiver at the last part, but allow Jackson to lead me through the house until we come to the last room on the right side of the primary hall. “She’s a bit scared,” he says, “but she’s okay.”
“Thank you, Jackson,” I whisper. “For everything.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” he says.
He leans forward, then, and bumps our heads together.
I expect something—anything—to happen: for us to live, for us to breathe, for us to maybe kiss. But Jackson, he is a knight, and though his weapon is not a sword, his heart is made of gold.
We remain like that for several long moments until he breaks away from me. “Go on,” he says. “I bet she wants to see you.”
As I turn to open the door—careful to crack it as to not scare the only living family member I have left—I exhale a breath I’ve been holding in since Jackson set his head against mine, then step inside.
“Belle?” I ask, crouching down. “It’s me.”
The little cat meows from under the bed, then steps out as Jackson closes the door behind us.
“Hey,” I say as she approaches, then rubs up against me. “You feeling okay?”
“The vet said that she needed to be confined to a single room,” Jackson says, “and not to exert herself. I told her that… well… that we’d take care of her.”
“Thank you, again.”
“You don’t have to thank me, Oaklynn. I’d help you with anything.”
“Anything?” I ask.
Jackson blinks, stunned. “Yeah,” he then says. “With anything.”
I turn my head away when I find I cannot speak my truth.
“Is something wrong?” he asks.
“No,” I say. “I just… need some time to think.”
“I’ll be across the hall if you need me,” he says.
The moment he slips out of the room is the moment my thoughts come crushing down.
The cold, hard kiss of violence.
As the door across the hall opens, then closes, I imagine taking hold of the person who did this to me—to us—and shoving them off the highest, most barbaric cliffside known to man.
I know that, eventually, I’ll have to confess my feelings to Jackson. But now?
Now, I think, I have to remain calm.
These wounds are too fresh to risk ripping them open again.
How long they’ll take to heal I do not know.
Dinner is a quiet ordeal. With green beans, mashed potatoes, and a roast with veggies pulled straight from the crockpot, we eat in silence with the knowledge that there is truly very little any of us can say.
It’s like a ghost town, I think.
Except we are not being haunted by the lingering dead. No. Instead, we are pursued by life itself, and are callous in our decision to remain in its presence.
As I eat, slowly but surely picking at food and forcing myself to swallow small bites, I find myself wondering how exactly I am going to go about presenting my case to them.
What will they think, I wonder, about a girl who knows nothing but rage?
Will they think I am blind? Careless? Inconsiderate to the world around me? Or will they understand that I am simply a spectator in this game of my life, and not exactly a player moving the pieces across the board?
I inhale a slow, cautious breath in an effort to stem my anger, but find myself tightening my hand around my work in the process.
“Oaklynn?” Zachariah Meadows asks. “Is something wrong?”
“Everything seems to be wrong,” I reply, lifting my eyes to face the man’s impenetrable gaze.
Zachariah narrows his eyes at me—watching, waiting, obviously anticipating further response. When I offer none, he turns his eyes toward his son; and when Jackson makes no further commentary, he tilts his head back toward me and asks, “What is it that you want?”
“What do I want?” I ask, then laugh, cruel and loudly, as if an emotional bubble has just popped and all the crazed hounds have been set loose. “I want whoever did this to pay.”
“Yes, sir. I want revenge.”
“Oaklynn—“ Jackson starts.
“Don’t try and talk me out of this, Jackson. I know what I want. I know what I need. And right now, I need whoever did this—to my mom’s shop, to my home, to my parents, to me—to pay.”
Neither of the men speak.
When Zachariah’s eyes fall back on mine, however, I see something there, in his gaze—his wild, reckless ways.
When it comes time for him to speak, it’s to say, “There is something we can do to possibly fix this.”
“What’re you—“ Jackson begins, then trails off, turning his head to face me. “Oaklynn,” he manages. “You’re not thinking—“
“I wish to invoke the spirit of the Mother Wolf,” I say, “and become a wolf just like you.”
“You’re sure you want this?” Zachariah Meadows asks.
All I can do is nod.
The man stands.
“Where are you going?” Jackson asks.
“To summon your grandmother,” he replies. “The full moon is tomorrow. We must prepare now before the sun rises.”