Since Tyra took the car to drive home, and Gunnar didn’t want to bother anyone to pick him up, he stayed the night. That wasn’t all too unusual, but he never slept over at my place without the others here. Saying that it made me nervous was an understatement. Gunnar and I used to spend quite some time together alone, but now it felt different.
It was as if he could hear my ecstatic beating heart and saw every nervous fiddling I did, because he spent a good time only speaking about him, avoiding topics that would make me even more nervous. Gunnar looked like such a brute-force man, but I realized again and again how sensitive and empathetic he was.
Eventually, when it got dark outside, heavy rain started pattering against the large window of the living room. I lit some candles and filled the coffee table with snacks- a few crackers, gummy bears, and chocolate. I even opened a bottle of wine, hoping the alcohol would ease my nervousness.
Gunnar swirled the red wine in his glass, looking at me with a soft smile on his face. “Is there a reason you are sitting so far away from me?”
“None in particular,” I said, taking another big gulp of wine.
I was afraid to face the feelings whirling around inside me. Whenever I thought I was ready to give in to Gunnar, George’s face popped up, making me stir away again. I had not a single feeling of regret for ending things with George or cutting contact with him. I knew it was for the best for him and me- but the nagging feeling still didn’t disappear, as much as I wanted it to.
“Are you still with me?”
I shook my head, realizing I had been staring at the same spot for a while. “Sorry, head in the clouds.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, I could see that. Don’t worry so much and relax. I’m only teasing you. I know certain things can’t be rushed or shouldn’t be rushed.”
My stomach dropped, imagining that he, at some point, wouldn’t be willing to wait for me. Understandably so. Why should anyone continue chasing someone if there is no hope? What if I was never ready to take the next step? Could we remain friends?
I glanced at him, seeing him leaned back, sunken into all the cushions Tyra placed on the sofa. The candlelight flickered on his face, making him look even more handsome. I gulped and emptied my glass.
“What if I don’t decide to take another step with you?”
The question slipped out before I had time to stop myself, and when the words left my mouth, I wished I could have taken them back. I wasn’t ready to hear this answer, afraid he would leave me.
He tilted his head to the side, his smile never dropping off his face. “Well, we will remain friends then, right? Tyra and the kids love you, one way or another, and you will remain a great person. Sure, it would be unfortunate for me, but I can’t force you into anything you don’t want. Is that what is bothering you the entire night?”
I leaned forward, placing the glass on the table. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Why do I feel so concerned about things that should be natural?”
“I believe you are more concerned about what others would think if you would get into a romantic relationship with someone after your recent breakup. It’s not that I can’t understand, but who will judge you? George or his family? Why does that matter? The heart wants what it wants, and seeing you so concerned about the feelings you are feeling about us is sad to see. But it also means you are thinking more about a future together than you like to let on.”
I sighed. “I don’t think that’s much of a secret anymore.”
He scooped to the edge of the sofa. “It will be a secret for as long as you haven't told me what you feel, and that is what I will wait for. There is no reason to rush this if, in the end, it might only be an escape from what you had lost. I want to be more for you, but not if that means that I will be the next best option to hide from what you truly feel. I don’t want to be an escape. I want to be a choice.”
I dropped my gaze and nodded. “I wouldn’t want to use you to distract me from my breakup with George, even if it’s unintentional.”
“I know you wouldn’t. That’s why I think it’s good you are taking your time to sort out your feelings. I want to make you understand that I don’t look for a fling or short-term relationship. When I say I’m interested in you, I’m serious. I’m certain it will be worth the wait, even if it might not happen. All I can hope for is that you don’t push me away because you think about what strangers might think. They don’t matter. What matters is what you feel comfortable with.”
“I will try my best,” I said, knowing he was right. I wasn’t even sure what judgment I was fearing, and from whom. It was only an excuse for me to push him away, and I shouldn’t. Not when he is so honest and serious about his feelings.
We dropped the topic for the rest of the evening, while he told me more about his pack.
“Polstjärnan,” I tried to pronounce his pack name for the tenth time, and he laughed at me again, the entire sofa shaking from it. By now, I had abandoned my spot on the armchair and sat next to him on the sofa. I hit his shoulder playfully and pouted. “Stop laughing at me. I can’t speak Swedish. What does it mean, anyway?”
He wiped a tear away from laughter. “Pole star.”
“That’s a lot easier to pronounce. Why didn’t you name it like that?”
He smiled. “My ancestors named the pack like this when we were still living in Sweden. It was handed down by generations, and I didn’t want to break tradition. It always reminds me of my family.”
I grabbed another handful of gummy bears and ate them one by one. “Do you know why they named it like that?”
“The pole star is the only star on the horizon that is constant, or at least close to that. It moves its position slowly over the centuries, but currently, it’s still almost directly north. That’s why it often got used as a point of navigation for my ancestors. They liked to say: ‘if you can find the pole star, you can find your way back home.’ It was so important to them, they named the pack after it.”
“It was a symbol for their home, then.”
“I guess you could say that.”
I smiled. “It has a nice meaning, but I can’t believe I only now know about your pack’s name. It didn’t even cross my mind to ask.”
He shrugged. “I would explain it with the way you have lived your life. You lived as a human, and asking for pack names is a wolf thing. All what matters was that we weren’t part of the Vindictoria pack. I should have told you much earlier, too, but with the way everything went, it slipped my mind that you didn’t know it yet.”
“If you were part of the Vindictoria pack, I probably wouldn’t be alive right now.”
What do they say? Ignorance is bliss. I knew he was a wolf, but I never wanted to get so close to him. I rather wanted to remain in my human bubble. And now he sat on my sofa and told me about this family.
Gunnar took my hand in his, drawing circles on it with his thumb. “I’m surprised, and relieved, that they didn’t do anything to you in all these years while you were a harmless human.”
I stared at our intertwined hands, enjoying the little sparks that rushed through my body. “Maybe that is exactly why they didn’t. I was deeply intertwined in human society. Usually, wolves only have brief contact with humans, even having their own companies, so they don’t have to work with other humans. But that also means that it’s easier to get rid of someone, too. We are ancient wolves, but we still have to follow human laws. It’s only avoidable when humans do not know about our shenanigans. Some ancient wolves live so far secluded, humans wouldn’t realize when any wolf went missing. Unless they find bodies, it wouldn’t even concern them. But if they had attacked me, it would have gotten attention. In my human state, I might have been safer than now.”
He frowned. “That’s true.”
“Besides, I start to believe that simply killing me is not what they want. If that was the case, they would have had plenty of opportunities. There must be more to it.”
Gunnar threw me a pointed look. “Whatever they want or plan, you have to tell us.”
I smiled weakly. “I know, Gunnar, and I will tell you when I find out more. But something will happen. They want those ruins at all cost.”
He pulled me closer, making me lean my head on his shoulder. I stiffened before I relaxed, enjoying his warmth. “They want power, but I feel like it would be very dangerous if they got their hands on them. Did you think about getting in touch with the ancient mages?”
“I probably should, even if I’m still feeling angry about what they did. Maybe they could offer us the information we need to stop the Vindictoria pack.”
Gunnar wrapped his arm around me and nodded. “I would love to know more about it, too. How about we look for them together?”
A smile spread over my face. “I would like that.”
“Then how about we go searching for them tomorrow?”
“That sounds good. I don’t know how to contact them, but maybe checking out the ruins would lead us somewhere.”
He pressed a kiss on top of my head. “We do that tomorrow, then.”
I nodded slowly, feeling my eyes growing heavy before I could not keep them open anymore.
“Sleep well, beautiful,” I heard him whisper into my ear, before I drifted into a deep sleep, right there in his arms.