The Beauty of Grey

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Chapter 22

I wanted to evacuate the premises immediately.

I didn’t know how Zacharias was going to react to my story, and it made me regret ever spitting it out. I never thought I’d confess it to anyone. The only people who knew what went on in that household were my mother, my father and I. He made sure he only acted out his abuse behind closed doors.

I felt my stomach curdle as I remembered Zacharias was, quite literally, the first person I ever opened up to my upbringing about. It wasn’t something I was proud of and I wasn’t going to flaunt it. Even telling Zacharias brought a spurt of shame from the pit of my belly into my neck.

But yet it was...refreshing, talking to a stranger about it. I had carried this burden on my shoulder for my whole life, but half of the crushing weight was now bestowed onto Zacharias’ shoulders. Had I known Zacharias longer than twenty-three days, I would’ve revealed nothing to him. My secret would’ve remained stored under lock and key.

I couldn’t bring myself to look up at him. I wanted to talk then walk. But I knew Zacharias would not let me slip away that easily. He never did. Even in the heat of a scandalous confession that shed light on why I was being as aggressive as I was, Zacharias wouldn’t grant me leniency in the form of time away from him.

“Where is your father now?” He asked suddenly, compassion softening his voice. It was strange hearing him sound as tender as he was, as if he was talking to a newborn babe.

“I don’t know,” I answered, my voice small. “Most likely where I left him. I don’t care to know his whereabouts, and I know he doesn’t care to know mine. We’re dead to each other as far as I’m concerned.”

“That’s why you are the way you are,” he stated the obvious. “You’ve been trampled your whole life.”

I looked up at him through the tops of my eyes, rubbing my arms. “There was a three-year gap when I was alone where I was growing,” I laughed venomously. “Then there was you.”

He took a step towards me, and I took no steps back. We were so close that our bodies were almost touching. I wondered what he was planning as he looked down at me. “Then there was me indeed,” he growled. “But I never tried to hurt you on purpose. Understand that.”

“My father never meant to hurt my mom and I either,” I laughed again, mocking him. “You know, that is such a bullshit line. Every time I hear someone use it I lose a little respect for them. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you meant to hurt someone or not. The fact of the matter is that you did regardless.”

“I’m sorry,” Zacharias breathed as he reached out to touch me. I flinched away from him, but didn’t step away. I didn’t mind the proximity, but if he were to touch me it would seem too real—this leeway I was granting him. “You’re afraid of me.” He said sadly, dropping his hand again.

I didn’t know what to say. He did, although I’d never admit it out loud to him, scare me. Not in the sense I thought he’d kill me. I was scared if he touched me I’d do things I’d regret. There was no romance in violence, and Zacharias was a cyclone of violence. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

“You view me as your father...only out to hurt you,” he continued talking to me. My jaw clenched as I looked away from him to the door. He didn’t comment. I wondered if I were to run, if he’d let me go. “Are we really that similar?”

“Almost. You’re worse.”

“I’ve failed you,” he said, which caused me to look back up at him. His emerald eyes nearly looked amber in the dim light, the silver section glinting like a gold coin. “I’ve failed you, Edie, I fucked up. I fucked up bad.”

Again, he rendered me speechless. A snarky comment sizzled on the tip of my tongue, but I kept it reduced. Something told me that now was not the time for my petty comments.

“I’ve always been a fuck up,” he told me. I gave him my undivided attention, thinking he was going to tell me his history. “I thought if there was one thing I’d be good at redeeming myself with, it would be taking care of my mate...of you.”

Well, he certainly bombed that.

“I should’ve started everything off differently,” he growled to himself, taking a step away from me as he ran his hands through his hair; flashing his teeth that gleamed ivory. “I never should’ve broken into your home...kidnapped you. I never should’ve kept you locked up. I never should’ve forcefully marked you.”

His indirect apology bordered self-clemency.

“When I saw you behind the counter of the gas station...I’ll never forget the smile on your face. I don’t think you know that I saw it. I—” he choked up. “I knew right then and there what you were to me. I didn’t want to go near you after that. You were dangerous to me—a temptation. The forbidden fruit. I hardly remember driving myself to your home...I hardly remember following you home the first time I saw you.”

I swallowed, rubbed the back of my neck awkwardly.

“I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, Edie. I considered leaving for hours. I was about to leave when you walked through the front door, and by then it was too late to back out. It’s not as if I’m a serial kidnapper. Originally, I planned on smashing a vase over your head but—” I cut him off.

I blinked, dumbfounded. “You wha—”

He talked over me. “—I thought that would kill you. What I did was no better. I understand why you hate me, why you are the way you are, why you’ve tried to kill me. I understand it all. You’re human. Regardless of my imprint, you can resist the pull better than my breed can,” he closed the distance between us again and took my cheeks in his hands. I allowed him to. “You are a challenge.”

For a moment I thought he was going to kiss me, but he never did. I was thankful. It would’ve been impersonal and tactless. This...my cheeks in his hands...was suiting. I never made an effort to touch him back, but I would not resist him...just this once. My hypocrisy became prominent.

“And you are winning. You are stronger than I ever could be and I admire you for that. I will always admire you for that. And I’m sorry,” he swallowed, eyes glistening like pools of whiskey. “I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to you. I’m sorry.”

His apology was heartfelt, but I couldn’t bring myself to swallow it down. Had I not told him about my father, our contemporary conversation never would have took place. I was pampered as a kid because I had never been hit or beaten or put in a life-threatening situation. But I was hardened by words that weighed me down like boulders and guilt over my mothers death that sometimes consumed me. I hadn’t felt that guilt since being brought to the cabin, though. I focused too much on myself.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me is such a minimizing saying. Words hurt—especially when you knew they were meant to hurt. I had meant to hurt Zacharias with my words...and with my hands, but I was being held hostage. Zacharias didn’t pamper me, nor did he cushion the blows he inflicted on me. He was still my abductor, and I his abductee.

I didn’t buy his apology. I remembered after some domestic disputes between my parents, my father would leave for days before coming home with flowers. He’d, in a falsely sweet voice, say that he would change...that things would change. I always noticed how he’d never say sorry only because he never was. After a day or two of his return home, he’d divert back to his normal ways.

There was a strong parallel between Zacharias and my father. As much as I wished to accept his apology and start on a clean slate, I knew he would divert back to his old habits. It was arguable that maybe I owed him somewhat of a chance to make his amends, but why should I? What had I done to give Zacharias a get-out-of-jail-free card?

I had to continuously remind myself of what Zacharias had done to me. I hated that he was showing raw remorse, because I felt obligated to accept his apology. It was not my job to accept his apology. He had done unforgivable things to me. Dastardly, fiendish, inexcusable things to me. I couldn’t forget that.

But I still managed to say, “you should be sorry.”

He unclasped his hands from my cheeks and took a step away from me, characteristically running his hand through his hair again. I found myself stiffening as he began to curse under his breath. I wouldn’t look away from him even as his eyes unfocused from mine, looking at the wall behind me...our portraits behind me.

“Will you ever forgive me?” He whispered as his whole body vibrated, an earthquake of emotions rattling him. He didn’t seem completely stable. I had seen him irrational before...but this was deadly. “Where you stand now, can you ever find yourself able to forgive me?”

I swallowed, realizing how loaded this question was. Could I? Where I stood now, definitely not. But what if I was forced to spend the rest of my life here—what if I was completely unable to get away from Zacharias? Ten years from now, could I find myself amenable enough to forgive him? That, I did not know.

But I didn’t attempt to glimpse into my future. I remained rooted in the now. “I don’t know,” I answered honestly; hesitantly and skittishly. “I don’t think so—no. No, I don’t. I can’t.”

He looked up at me, took another step backwards. His eyes glistened. I humoured the idea that his emotions were pooling in his eyes. I had never seen him look so vulnerable. Usually it was me who was vulnerable between the two of us. This was new. I didn’t know how to handle it. I found myself feeling cornered and wanting to run. But I was too overcome to move. I hated it. I felt paralyzed.

“I knew you were going to say that. You’re as stubborn as the day is long, Edie. That aspect of you I admire a little less.”

Aaaaaaaaand we’re back.

I gave him a sharp look. “Typical,” I sighed, exasperated. “You know, this is just like you.” I seethed.

I was no longer paralyzed in place. I gave a small shake of my head as I stepped out of my position and made a move to walk past him. It seemed as if he was going to allow me to, but at the last second his hand jutted out against my chest and he gently shoved me back. I was alarmed by this. His gentleness in the midst of his coercion was sinisterly frightening.

“You don’t get to walk away from me,” he said lowly; harshly. “Not after what we’ve confessed to one another.”

“You’re such a fool,” I blurted before I could stop myself. “You show me a half decent side to you and then you divert right back to normal. What’s your goal with me? What the hell are you trying to achieve with me? You want my forgiveness, Zacharias? Well I’ll give you a little hint: you’ve started off on the wrong foot.”

“You are infuriating!” He snapped at me. If I were him, I might’ve agreed. “I’ve apologized and you can’t even grant me your forgiveness. What more do you want from me?!” He yelled, throwing his arms into the air.

“I want your soundness,” I explained calmly. “Then I want you to let me go.”

His fists clenched in the air, as if he was hyping himself up to strike me. He was so livid I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. When he slowly began to lower his fists, I was more surprised than thankful when he landed no punches to my face.

“But we can’t always get what we want.” I whispered, completing my statement.

“What are we?” He asked, voice whittling down again. He was levelheaded for now, but I wasn’t stupid enough to think it would last forever.

“We are toxic,” I answered a little too quickly, giving him a tremulous smile before dropping my eyes to the ground. “You should consider yourself lucky that you took me some place off of the grid. No matter what we argue about, no one here has the power to take me from you. In my little human town, that’s my territory. You wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, like I don’t have a leg to stand on here.”

“I wasn’t always like this, Edie,” he began. And again I thought he was going to divulge his past to me. I listened intently. “I wasn’t born this way.” He stopped speaking, looking up at me as if my response—whatever it may be—would fix everything. His past, the present, our future.

I didn’t think I disappointed him. “No one is born hostile.”

“Thank you.” he whispered. I knew that his thanks to me was built on me finding the words he was unable to.

“But,” there was always a but. “Don’t think for a second that absolves all the terrible things you’ve done in your life.”

“What about you?” He deflected the topic of the conversation back to me. “What about all the bad things you’ve done?”

“I’m not perfect,” I admitted. “But I’m not a hostile person...only to you. But given what our situation is predicated upon, I think I have every right to be hostile to you. I never asked for any of this. I never asked to be taken...I never agreed to be with you. As far as I’m concerned, you’re still a creep who broke into my home and kidnapped me.”

Zacharias’ fists clenched by his sides. Again, I moved and tried to sneak past him, but he reached out last second. Instead of just pushing my chest, however, he grabbed my biceps and forcefully pushed me to the side. I let out a shriek as I staggered and stumbled onto my hip.

I looked up at him. By the shocked look on his face I assumed he hadn’t meant to throw me onto the floor. I had, admittedly, lost my footing because I was naively blindsided. I shouldn’t have been. I didn’t know why I was.

I didn’t stand up right away. I was thoroughly annoyed and somewhat humiliated. I felt myself grimace as I rolled onto my rear and pulled my knees to my chest. I rested my cheek on them as I turned my head to the side. I wrapped my arms around myself; curled into myself. I was quickly growing depleted. This game of tug-of-war was initiated by both sides, and I knew that.

But so far he was the one pulling the rope from my hands. And in the crossfire, I was getting burned. He had the better half of me—he always had the better half of me. And I would always know that, but he was right because I was too stubborn to admit defeat. Slowly, I was destroying myself. Soon, I feared, I’d be nothing but shambles. Our diatribes were no longer exciting.

Zacharias let out something that resembled a growl before his footsteps began to near me. He walked towards me, and for a second I thought he would stick his hands beneath my armpits and hoist me up. But he didn’t. He slipped past me, so close that the fabric of his jeans scraped against my bare arm.

Curiosity compelled me to look back at him. Untucking my body, I turned around and observed him as if I was watching a movie play out for the first time. He stood in front of his portrait. The muscles in his back tensed, coiled and shifted. I wondered if he was admiring the beauty of the detail put into painting him.

Then things took an unexpected turn.

Grabbing the portrait by the frame, he lifted it off of the wall, high into the air, then brought the canvas down full force onto his raised knee. Before I could stop myself I let out a squeal. The picture tore in half, the canvas ripping right across Zacharias’ eyes. How suiting. Once again, anger preventing both the real him, and the painted him, from seeing.

I couldn’t move right away. It was as if my motor functions were no longer in use. My jaw dropped as my eyes stuck glued to him. He threw his portrait onto the ground with such haste that one half glided towards me and struck me in the knee. I looked at ripped Zacharias from half his eyes up.

My eyes followed the path to him as he moved to the portrait of his mother, Suzannah. He paused in front of her picture and looked at it for maybe a minute or two. His shoulders slumped, and all I could hear was my ragged breaths. I thought he was going to move past her picture for a moment, simply because he didn’t look as if he was ready to reach out and grab it.

But I was wrong. He snatched it from the wall, raised it high in the air, before slamming it over his knee. The sound of the fabric ripping was enough to make me wince through my breathing, as if it was the actual skull of his mother. I was so mortified by his behaviour.

As he threw her portrait onto the floor, he yelled at both halves as if they were his actual mother. “Fuck you for never protecting me! Fuck you for never doing anything!” He screamed.

Shakily, I raised the back of my hand up to my mouth as I watched him continue his rampage of destruction. When he stood in front of his fathers portrait, there was no hesitation. He instantly took it from the wall and smashed it over his knee. However, he held the most malice against his father because he didn’t stop there.

Taking one half, he smashed it over his knee again, before taking the two quarters and shredding the canvas with his nails that had elongated at some point due to his rage. He did the same to the other unscathed half. Even as he threw the four shredded quarters onto the floor, however, he kicked them away from him.

His temper tantrum, had I not been so scared, might’ve elicited a laugh from me because it seemed so ridiculous. But in that moment, his instability absolutely terrified me. I hoped he wouldn’t turn around and smack me over his knee like those portraits. This behaviour was fuelled purely by pent up anger.

I knew that I had made him angry countless of times. In that moment, I worried he wouldn’t be able to differentiate me from the pictures. Would he break me and mutilate me as well? Was I soon to be just as much of a target?

I didn’t want to stick around to find out. I stood to my feet slowly, as if standing up at a normal rate would disturb Zacharias from his rage and send him flying at me. I didn’t think I was too important to him as he continued to ruin generations of portraits—disassembling the people of power who came before him. Something told me this would not blow over well.

As I began to walk backwards towards the door, Zacharias continued to tear portraits. I never once looked away from him, afraid that if I did he’d claw my back and rip out my liver viking style. He hadn’t seemed to notice me at all. My back hit the front door, my hand grasping the knob.

As I moved to turn the knob, however, Zacharias dropped the portrait he was about to bring down on his knee. It was still completely whole as he dropped it onto the floor. He shifted his whole body to face me. He looked so dishevelled I expected to see his shirt ripped and his face bathed in blood.

But he was spotless. Dishevelled, but spotless.

It was one of our classic stare-offs. A part of me expected that if I blinked, that millisecond would be all Zacharias needed to be inches from me. I held my eyes open long enough that they stung and become blurry. Zacharias seemed unbothered, so emotionless it was as if he didn’t recognize me.

He seemed conflicted. One leg was stuck in front of him, as if he was preparing to run. But at the same time he was still enough that he looked as if he lacked the urge. For a moment I, too, was conflicted. If I were to run, would he chase me? Maybe it would’ve been easier to just sink to my knees and curl into myself again. I was tempted.

But Zacharias had other plans. He blinked first, so finally I blinked; keeping my world black for a few seconds.

"Run.” He whispered. In the silence, I could hear him loud and clear.

So I listened. I threw the door open and I fled. I had scrambled so quickly out of the room I nearly toppled over the stairs, but I managed to collect myself. The grass felt soft, as if it would swallow me up like quicksand. I couldn’t wait to run. I felt stuffy and stuck.

I hadn’t preplanned where I would run to, but before I knew where I was going I was hastening my way to the forest. When I ran, I couldn’t help but notice I ran no faster than I did when I was just human. I hadn’t inherited an inhuman velocity.

But my muscles never ached, my lungs never burned, and I didn’t feel depleted even as I ran full speed across the vast field. The sun beamed down at me, warm and violet—completely opposed to her midnight counterpart. I found myself longing for the moon more than I did a way out.

I broke the tree line and ran deep into the forest. I peeked over my shoulder once, noticing that Zacharias wasn’t chasing me. We, temporarily, put a halt on our game of cat and mouse. We had allowed for a part time separation. And in that separation, we were granting each other privacy so we could shatter. When we reentered our game of cat and mouse, our shattered pieces would collect and mesh so we could become our own twisted, mangled mosaic.

I was very far into the forest when I reached a clearing. I stopped running, still fully energized as I collapsed onto my knees. I crumpled over, my hands reaching in front of me as I grabbed a handful of pine needles and wet dirt. The smell of the forest was invigorating and welcoming. It felt like...home.

A crow cawed from overhead. I looked up at it, squinted through the sunlight, perched on a branch that hung directly overhead of me. It cawed again. Its black, beady, glossy eyes paid no mind to me. Its ebony feathers, reflecting a fish-scale blue from the sun, ruffled. I had despised crows up until this point, finding a new beauty in them.

It pecked beneath its wing before taking flight. My eyes followed it until I could no longer see it through the thick hairs of the pine trees. There was a stillness. No wind, no insects buzzing, no frogs croaking, no rustling of needles. Pure silence. I thought of Zacharias. I thought of me.

2018 to 2018.

And I broke the silence, screaming until I tasted fire.

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