Waking in the dead of night, something has me on edge, gnawing away at me, yelling at me as if I’ve forgotten an important task or appointment. Anxiety rolls within my gut, crashing into me like a stormy sea. After trying… and failing to go back to sleep numerous times, eventually, I give up and quietly take myself to my balcony.
As I slowly open the doors, a sharp, cold wind hits me in the face, any remnants of sleepiness I once had washed away in an instant.
The land is quiet and peaceful, so very peaceful. The light of the moon envelops the grounds, whilst the remaining untouched parts are shrouded in a looming and dreary darkness.
I stare out at the blackness of the forest, so dark and intimidating, it makes me wonder what horrors and monsters could be lurking there, waiting for their moment to pounce. Then, in a small opening where the moonlight reaches a tree. I see an opening in the trunk, a small family of baby owls huddled together for warmth as they wait for their carer to return to them; their eyes sparkle with hope as they await the safe return of their carer and their next meal.
It reminds me there is beauty in everything. The darkness we feel at times smothers and hinders our vision, lurking in the background to drag us back under, drowning us in all of its glory, blinkering us to the beauty in the world but it’s there, it’s always there, we are just blind to it until a light is shone on that beauty for us once more, highlighting those small and precious moments in life that we might’ve once overlooked or missed entirely.
An interesting sound causes my ear to twitch, focusing my hearing on that particular sound I listen intently. It sounds like… muffled screams? Slowly, I turn, finding the source.
My heart plummets to my gut. Fear grasps at me with its cold tendrils, seeping into my bones.
I don’t even have to think twice about my next move. With my curiosity getting the better of me - yet again. I climb atop the balustrade. What’s that saying? Curiosity killed the cat. I can only hope that my curiosity doesn’t get me killed one day.
I reminisce momentarily, relishing in the feeling of confidence I now own. Just a short while ago, I nearly killed myself with this jump; the last time I stood up here, my knees shook uncontrollably. Now, I stand without an ounce of fear. I know I can make the jump with ease this time. Even looking at the killer drop below me doesn’t shake my core. I have no fear of death at this moment, for there is no chance I will fall.
With a graceful leap, my feet meet the cool marble floor of Rex’s balcony in silence, not wishing to alert anyone to my presence.
I walk to Rex’s door, my hand outstretched, pausing just before the doorknob. I hesitate.
Am I overstepping my boundaries? I wonder, yet, Sierra urges me onwards, but I remain stationed to my spot.
Should I turn back? What if I upset him?
Suddenly, that noise, that heartbreaking tune flows from his room once again.
No, it can’t be. My heart breaks, clenching painfully to the sound escaping his room.
I have to be sure... I have to see it with my own eyes... to know for definite my ears aren’t playing tricks on me.
Throwing his balcony doors open with one forceful shove, they crash against the wall as I make my entrance. The thin nets blow in the breeze around me.
There he is. As I had thought. My ears weren’t playing tricks on me.
I hoped they had been.
Rex sits on his bed, frozen, face buried in his hands. Slowly, he turns to face me.
Fresh tears stain his cheeks, his eyes red and swollen from the tears he’s shed. His eyes widen as they take me in, his face still partly hidden behind his hands.
We stay there for a while, just watching each other, neither of us sure what to do or say.
“Mae”, Rex breathes out in a whisper, his tone one of disbelief, like he thinks this is just a strange dream.
Tears well in my eyes as I take in my mate’s pain, the anguish he’s concealed from us for so long now evident, clear as day, I see him, the real Rex, the one that feels fear and pain, sorrow and sadness, I see the boy again that I’d lost so many years ago, my gentle giant with the kind soul.
The shame and horror in his tone shatter my soul, but it’s something else that makes goosebumps sprinkle my skin. Need… the need in his voice, dominating every other emotion laced in his tone.
He needs me.
Without a second thought, my feet take me across the threshold and into Rex’s room; I barely register the faint sound of my feet pounding the floor below as I make my way to Rex at speed.
Throwing myself into him, I straddle his lap, his face held firmly in my hands, as I try to connect with those stunning amber gems that avert their gaze. Sparks shoot up my spine as strong arms seize my waist, the owner still refusing to meet my eyes.
“It’s ok, you’ll be ok”, I whisper to him, “I’ve got you, always”.
Carefully, he furrows his head into my chest, his body shuddering with each sob as his arms tighten around me further, almost too tight, as though he thinks I’ll leave him and disappear into the night, leaving him all alone once again.
“I’m sorry, Mae. I’m so so sorry”, he says through muffled sobs.
Stroking the back of his head tenderly, I try to reassure him, “It’s ok, don’t worry about me”.
“No, Mae… stop pretending it’s ok! It’s not ok, I’ve hurt you! I didn’t want it to be this way, I wanted it to be different”.
My heart skips a beat at this confession… does he mean?
Deciding now isn’t the time to press on this subject too much, I simply answer, “It still can be, no doors are closed forever”.
Holding my tongue has never been harder; all I wish to do is ask him if he truly means he wanted to be with me this whole time, but I can’t risk him shutting down on me again, this is the closest I’ve gotten to any form of an answer - I can’t risk the progress he’s finally making. We need to go back to basics. We need to know who we are again. Carefully rebuild those foundations for us to flourish once more. That’s my hope, at least.
“I can’t be who you want me to be. I can’t do it, Mae”.
“And who do I want you to be?” I ask quietly.
“The boy you once knew. He’s gone now, he’s dead. They saw to that”, he states, gripping onto my nightie.
“I don’t want that Rex anymore, I want this Rex. I’ve been damaged too, I want us to heal together. I don’t want or expect you to be perfect, because neither am I”.
Rex doesn’t respond. He stays in silent thought as he buries his face into me, his tears lessening bit by bit as his emotions gradually begin to calm.
“What did they do to you?” I brave the question I’ve wondered for so long.
There’s a long pause. I’m not sure if Rex is gathering his thoughts or simply refusing to answer my question as the silence stretches.
“For the first month they beat me, carved into me and pushed me to the brink of death most days; the odd day’s reprieve was a blessing, although I still spent the day wondering if they would come… waiting for them to come for me”.
“After that, the beatings lessened to weekly, sometimes even fortnightly. Sometimes, I wonder what was worse, the beatings… or the silence. Having nothing but the voice inside my head keeping me going, memories of the past… memories of you to hold onto”.
“After so many years, you finally appeared before me, you were finally there to rescue me. You had found me”.
I furrow my brow in confusion.
What is he talking about?
“I was elated. I hadn’t felt happiness like it for so long. To see your face, to see how you had changed and matured. Beautiful, I thought”.
“Then, just as I was finally about to be released. You would cackle like a witch, as you melted away, morphing into a masculine frame as Caleb stared back at me with glee”.
“He did this over... and over again. Eventually, the sight of you made me feel nothing except cold and empty. I just thought it was another trap, another joke for me to be the butt of... so I withdrew, I ignored everyone and everything around me, they tried to beat me into responding, but I was done with life by this point”.
I can’t help but think about that cold and distant look he gave me back at the Firehills before turning his back on me. I don’t think he was willing to allow himself to believe that it was me, that he was finally free.
“And now? Do you still feel the same?” I ask a little too eagerly.
He pauses for a moment.
“No… Now I have something to protect”. He states passionately, looking up at me, his amber orbs still glistening from his tears.
“And why does this something need protecting?” I ask, raising an eyebrow.
“Because this something is more precious than anything on this planet”, he says, looking deep into my eyes.
With my heart feeling like it’s fluttered and soared directly into my mouth, I find myself incapacitated, brain fried and unable to formulate a single word.
“I know someone is looking to hurt what’s mine, what’s precious to me… and for that reason, I must protect it”, he states so effortlessly as my mind continues to reel.
Hoisting me up, my legs still wrapped around his waist, he moves me backwards into the bed, laying me so my head hits the pillow as he hovers over me.
My breathing accelerates at our proximity. Rex’s eyes scan my face, down to my chest, leaving a blazing trail imprinted in my skin as his eyes roam.
Eventually, he moves downwards, placing his head on my lap gently. Instinctually, my hands dive straight into his hair, tousling and stroking his honey locks, as he sighs his appreciation, his large arm draped over my legs in a half hug.
“Can I ask you something… personal?” I ask timidly.
This question has been playing over and over again in my mind. The one I have wanted to ask for so long - now screaming at me.
“You don’t have to answer… if you don’t want to. Jasper told me, the she-wolves… they…” I start, trying to find the words to finish my question.
Slowly, Rex rolls over, looking at me with concern.
“They… umm…”, I say, glancing at his crotch, still unsure how to ask.
Fortunately, Rex follows my sight, piecing together my question.
“Oh..”, he whispers.
Shaking his head slowly, he responds calmly, “No. They didn’t visit me”.
A small smile spreads on my lips as I nod quickly, gulping harshly as my throat tightens and a wave of emotions flood my senses.
Happiness, it wasn’t true, just a vicious lie. Followed by crushing shame and guilt. He’s remained untouched, yet I’m damaged goods. I used my body as a tool to feel something... Rex will never get to be my first.
What will he think of that? What will he think of me? Will he think I’m a disappointment?
Rex sighs deeply, “Stop it, I can practically hear the cogs in your mind going haywire. I can feel the tension in your body. You have nothing to be ashamed of or sorry for if that’s what you’re worried about”.
My muscles uncoil ever so slightly at that.
Maybe we will be ok.
As I continue to stroke Rex’s hair, I hear a hoot in the distance; looking towards the balcony door, I catch a glimpse of a large grey owl soaring past. Focusing my hearing, I find the happy hoots of the baby owls welcoming their carer home.
With a small smile, I look downwards at my lap... at my mate that lays there peacefully.