When I returned to my bungalow, George was sleeping on the sofa. I tiptoed to the bedroom and pulled a fluffy blanket out of the wardrobe. I pulled it over him and smiled when he pulled at the sides to tuck it closer.
After making sure he was still asleep, I grabbed Cedric’s ointment and headed to the bathroom. It had no label on it, and I wasn’t exactly sure if I should trust this ominous medicine, but why would they want to harm me?
I washed my hands and applied the greenish-looking cream on the burn, barely touching the sensitive skin. To my surprise, it helped quickly. The stinging disappeared, and a slight chilly feeling remained on my skin.
I headed back to the living room and sat down in the armchair, watching George sleep peacefully. I wish I had no past to hide from him and that things would be easier than this, but they weren’t.
When I watched him sleeping like this, he looked like the George I used to know. The one I met seven years ago, the one who proposed to me on New Year’s Eve with exploding fireworks in the background. It was so loud I barely heard him, but I had tears in my eyes when I screamed yes. He had laughed, picked me up, and spun us around a few times. It felt so carefree and innocent, like no one else mattered except us. I didn’t expect his proposal, because I had yet to meet his parents, but I thought I wouldn’t need to know them when all I needed was him in my life.
And look at us now.
My throat closed as I tried to push back the tears that threatened to overwhelm me.
Either fix my lies or tell him the truth. Neither seemed like an option to me. But did I want to leave and give up my entire life? Was it even about me? George will never have the life he would want to have if I continued to stay with him - telling him the truth or not.
Tyra might have said they would figure something out, so I could stay here, but I knew wolves. Why would they let a lone wolf roam in their territory? In their mind, I might be a ticking time bomb. Wolves aren’t so trusting of strangers. Gunnar and Tyra are surprising exceptions.
And even worse, I might attract other packs. My pack is supposed to be dead. If people found out one of us was still alive, it would surely be a hot topic. Gossip was not only a big thing in the human community, after all. As far as I can tell, no one knows what happened back then. What would happen if the Vindictoria pack found out I was still alive, and they would finish what they started? I would bring George into unnecessary danger staying here.
I would like to use the excuse that I haven’t transformed back yet and that it all might be a fluke, but if others could feel it now, can I continue to ignore it?
My stomach dropped, imagining what they would do to George. I wouldn’t be able to deal with it if another person I loved died. And it would be my fault, too. Just like his current situation was my fault, and it wouldn’t get better than this, only worse.
“Mia?” George said from the sofa, startling me.
“George, how are you?” I asked, and watched him as he struggled to sit up, holding his head. I waited for him to say something as I fiddled with the corner of a cushion. The clock in the living room ticked louder and louder with every passing second until I was ready to throw it out.
“I’m sorry,” he said eventually, and I focused back on him. “I shouldn’t have said the things I said. That was unfair of me. I don’t know what has gotten into me.”
His chin trembled as I stared at him. He dropped his gaze to his hands and let out a heavy sigh. He looked defeated, and I wanted to pull him into my arms and tell him everything will be fine again. But would they really?
“It might have been the alcohol that got into you.”
He flinched at my words, but nodded. “I don’t know why I keep resorting to alcohol lately. We both know how much I hate it and what my community thinks of it, too. I feel like I’m losing the grip of my life. As if it’s running through my fingers like water, and I don’t understand why. Everything should be perfect. I have a beautiful fiancée, a great job, and I’m healthy. But yet I’m so sad.”
A heavy feeling settled in my stomach. I never realized he felt that way. Did he always put up a front to surpass his feelings?
“Why didn’t you tell me about your concerns?”
He clenched his hands together tightly. “I didn’t want to worry or stress you unnecessarily.”
“Why? Those are important feelings you never shared with me.”
He shrugged and avoided my gaze. I slowly grasped his thought process. “Please don’t tell me you never mentioned it because you thought it might make the chance of me becoming pregnant lower?”
George stared at me with wide eyes, gaping, seemingly unsure of what to answer. His shoulder slumped as he nodded. “Yes.”
I wondered if children were the only thing he had been thinking about all these months or years. “George, are you feeling this way because we can’t have children?”
“We can have children! It just hasn’t happened yet,” he said, louder now.
I sighed. “So, that’s a yes, then.”
I was very tempted to come out with the truth right now and tell him that the chance of us ever getting children is close to zero, but I bit my tongue.
“Amalia, you are everything I have and everything I want in life. I want to have you around me all the time, and I want to bind myself to you forever. But I want my parents to accept you, too. With how much they wish for grandchildren, I’m sure they will!”
I stood up and paced the room. “I can’t remember how often we spoke about this before, but this is ridiculous! If anything, your parents will think I forced you to sin or something along those lines! Children won’t solve the hatred of your parents towards me!”
“I refuse to lose hope! I might have sinned, but it was of my own accord. It had nothing to do with you! I did it because I thought I had to. I was afraid to lose you!”
I stopped and stared at him, my thoughts whirling around in my head so fast I didn’t know what to make out of them anymore. “What are you talking about? Why would you have lost me? Do you think I would have left you because of different beliefs? I would have waited until marriage, it wouldn’t have been an issue for me. I wanted to be together with you, George. You didn’t want to wait, and now you tell me it’s because you thought I would leave you!”
He rose from the sofa but stumbled back. He took a few deep breaths before answering: “Amalia, look at you. You are beautiful, smart, and charming. Every man is looking after you, and even James seemed so interested. I had to do something!”
I groaned in frustration. “You never trusted me from the very start, did you? I never cared about any other man, and James was always just a friend. He has had a girlfriend since I had known him. All I cared about was you, no one else. And instead of talking to me about your insecurities and fears, you pushed aside your beliefs and ‘sinned’ because of me. Should I feel good about that?”
He buried his face in his hands. “It’s not your fault.”
“Is it not? To me, it sounds that way.”
“No, it’s not your fault. It’s mine. I should have trusted you and believed in us. But my insecurities got the better of me. I thought it would get better the more time we spent together, but it was getting harder and harder.” He struggled to his feet and moved towards me, grabbing my hands. “I’m afraid to lose you.”
I stared into his teary eyes, biting the insides of my cheeks to stop myself from crying. “You should have said something. We could have fixed it.”
“I wanted to be strong. When I met you for the first time, I immediately knew you were such a strong person. You are walking like a leader, always with your head held high. I didn’t want to disappear into your shadow. I thought I needed to be strong, so I was worthy to walk alongside you.” He blinked away tears and clenched my hands. “But regardless of how hard I tried, it felt like you were always two steps ahead of me. Reaching higher than me, being faster than me. I thought if there is nothing that would hold you close to me, you would slip away at some point. Too far away for me to reach.”
Tears streamed down his face as I gazed up at him. The pain in my chest almost made me numb to his pain. It felt like he had been acting around me all this time. Never showing his real self.
“You wanted something to hold me close to you, so you wanted children,” I whispered. After those words left my mouth, I wished they were wrong, and that he would get angry at me for accusing him of such things.
But he nodded, looking past me. “I always wanted children, and I thought you were exactly the right woman to settle down with. It would also solve several things at once. My parents might finally accept you, and you would have a reason to stay with me. Together, we could have enjoyed parenthood.”
The pain was almost overwhelming me. I pulled my hands out of his and crossed my arms. He set it up so well. I knew part of why he wanted children was to convince his parents, but I never realized it was also to make me stay. Should those be reasons to want children? It felt wrong in more ways than just one.
“I would have stayed for you, George, for you alone.” A lonely tear rolled down my cheek.
He dropped to his knees and buried his face. “I’m so sorry.”
I glanced down at him, and for a second, I thought he was weak. Shocked by my thought, I stepped away and walked to the terrace door, watching outside.
The sun was setting by now, covering the world in red and yellow light. It was the golden hour, the perfect time to capture the moment forever, but I didn’t want to capture anything right now.
George sobbed loudly behind me, and I clenched my hands into fists to stay calm, to think about what to do next. I wiped more tears away, trying to stay level-headed.
“Amalia, please don’t leave me,” he said, gasping for air.
I flinched and took a deep breath. “George, I’m not sure if the future you and I had in mind was the same. It feels as if we were walking on the same path, but we had two different goals in mind. This isn’t all on you. I’m at fault, too.”
“We can fix this! Don’t give up on us,” he said, crawling over to me and gripping my leg. His face was pained and wet from tears. Some part of me wanted to stay and fix this, but a larger part realized this wouldn’t work out. Maybe it was for the best to end this now, instead of repairing something that was doomed to fail, eventually.
“George, sit down on the sofa,” I said. I didn’t want to look at him begging on his knees any longer. He stumbled to his feet and dropped back on the sofa. I slid off my engagement ring and immediately disliked the empty feeling it left behind.
I stared out the window again, collecting myself. The golden hour was over. Now the world looked gray and cold. A lot more fitting for what was about to go down.
I turned around and faced him. He looked at me wide-eyed, almost scared. I swallowed hard, trying to think about the right words. But I doubt there were any.
“George, you have been the center of my world since we met. You always cheered me up, made me laugh, and I felt so loved by you. You gave me the feeling as if I was the prettiest woman walking this planet, and you spent so much time creating wonderful memories with me. But when did I miss I made you this miserable? That walking beside you was like drowning you? Why didn’t I see it? I should have realized something was wrong, but instead, I was pushing you further and further down a black hole and I didn’t bother to help you back out, and I’m so sorry,” I said with a trembling voice.
I clenched the ring in my hand, and it almost felt as if it was burning into my skin.
George opened his mouth to say something, but I held my hand up. “No, let me finish. Your love, kindness, and patience. I didn’t deserve it. But I wanted it, and I took it. It was keeping my head above water, and I thought you would be fine, too. But look at you now. You threw more than one of your beliefs overboard to keep me by your side because I never gave you the feeling I would stay with you. But George, believe me, I would have stayed. I would have walked the darkest paths with you, and I would have joined you in the deepest dungeons to stay together. But we lost each other on the way, and we weren’t honest with each other.”
“But I was honest with you!” George’s voice boomed through the room, as he stared at me with red eyes.
My heart clenched, and I shook my head. “Only now you were, but it’s too late now. The space between us had been growing too large for us to fix this. This was doomed to happen one way or another. We aren’t good for each other. Too many things happened, too many secrets and unspoken words in the air!”
Tears streamed down his face and his whole body was shaking as he clenched his hands at his sides. “We both have our secrets. I know you do, too. Why do you punish me for keeping secrets?”
I wanted to scream and let this pain out that was biting the insides of my chest. He was right, and his secrets weren’t by far as bad as mine. I had an entire family background I didn’t share with him, and I was an ancient wolf, for crying out loud. How should I ever explain what I am and move on as if it wasn’t a big deal? How could I prevent him from getting hurt any more than he already did?
“You are right, it’s also because of my secrets. Secrets so heavy I wouldn’t be able to share them with you ever. And if both of us can’t be honest with each other, how should this work out?”
He fell back on the sofa, his head hanging low. “We were supposed to stay together forever.”
I walked towards him and kneeled in front of him, reaching down to lift his head, cupping his face between my hands, and looking into his hazel eyes, reminding me of all these memories we shared. I wish I could stay, but I couldn’t risk it. Not when I knew he would be in danger.
I kissed his cheek and placed the ring in his hand. “Some things aren’t meant to be forever.”
Before he had a chance to respond, I got up and ran out of the bungalow with sobs begging to escape. Running away like a coward - once again.