The Beauty of Grey

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Chapter 26

I had shouted for Zacharias a dozen times the moment I got out of the shower, but he was nowhere around. He had abandoned me at a crucial time, running away from his problems like a coward.

I was left alone for the rest of the day, and it was driving me crazy. It felt like cruel and unusual punishment, as if Zacharias was disciplining me because he told me that he loved me. And the longer I paced back and forth in his bedroom, the more guilty I began to feel for something that wasn’t my fault. I had forgotten that with Zacharias there was never impunity.

I had sat and stewed in the shower until the water ran cold and I was shivering. My lips had been blue and my skin blanched, but I could still feel the heat from my tears as I cried amidst the running water. My thoughts were spinning and gyrating like never before. Why did I feel bad for Zacharias telling me something I had begged him not to?

I began chewing my cheek, chewing holes until I tasted blood. Due to my fast healing, however, my self-inflicted wounds healed quickly and left me far from feeling complacent. I couldn’t even hurt myself and feel the satisfaction. Today, my spirit felt battered and bruised and that was something that wouldn’t heal quickly. It felt like my abdomen had been cleaned of all my organs. I felt empty.

I kept pacing for hours and hours. Why did Zacharias have the audacity to tell me something so temerarious, and then leave me to stew on it? I could understand having to leave and recollect your thoughts for a little while, but at some point it just became obnoxious. It made me wish that I had lied and told him I loved him back, just so I wouldn’t be alone with my thoughts.

I wore his sweats and a t-shirt over my used undergarments that reeked of hormones and sweat. My hair had long dried and was beginning to irritate me. It was falling in my face and obstructing my vision, and it wouldn’t stay tucked behind my ears. I tried tucking it into his shirt but it managed to wriggle its way out. I ended up holding my hair up with my hands, fearing I’d tear it out with frustration.

I walked over to the window bench and sat on my knees. Zacharias had closed the window after he got out of the shower, and the feeling of being locked in when I wanted to flee returned and hit me like a train. I let go of my hair and pressed my hands against the window and rested my cheek against it, watching my breath fog the glass around my mouth. It was twilight.

I wondered if Zacharias would ever be coming back. I remembered watching a movie where this guy held a girl hostage, and one day she pissed him off so badly he left for a while during the winter. When he finally came back, she was so frail and desperate for contact that she threw herself into his arms just so he wouldn’t do that to her again. In his absence, she almost died. I feared Zacharias would do the same to me.

Thunder roared from somewhere in the distance, and had I had human hearing I probably would’ve missed it. It was storming too, the sky just as angry as I was. Was he leaving me here to rot, so when he came back I could bat my eyes and pucker my lips and say: I love you too? If so, he was taking the wrong approach. I still had some fight left in me, although it was subdued.

I decided I would sit comfortably with my legs stretched along the length of the bench, my back against the wall as I looked outside. Twilight slowly turned into dusk, and anger slowly set into melancholy. Thunder crashed every so often as the storm got nearer. It was building, slowly but steadily. I had a feeling that the storm would hit home before Zacharias did.

Once it was well into the night, I grew resentful and was ready to snap. I walked out of the bedroom and into the pitch black hallway that swallowed the light like tar. The cabin, I hadn’t noticed before, was minatory with no lights on, and without another body to occupy it. Without any illumination, it was the perfect horror-movie setting. I could envision ghosts and poltergeists coming through walls, and witchcraft being practiced in spare rooms.

Thunder crashed as I walked down the stairs, and it scared me enough that I nearly fell down the rest of the flight. I grabbed onto the railing, steadying myself. Although my eyes were adapted for the night, I needed to flick some lights on just so I wouldn’t feel so jittery and unnerved. Something about tonight felt so disquieting.

I scurried into the kitchen and turned on some lights, feeling relieved to shed some brightness onto the place. But that feeling of loneliness did not dissipate. I knew the light wouldn’t offer me any company, but it didn’t brighten me up either. I hated that I was so anxious for Zacharias to return. We could talk, we could work things out. I could tell him I loved him.

But then I would be betraying myself. I didn’t love him. And as I started pacing again, despite trying to convince myself that I loved him, I knew I did not. Every time I muttered I love him under my breath, my skin bristled and my belly roiled. No matter how many times I tried to say it, I couldn’t convince myself I was being candid. I wasn’t.

Thunder crashed again, and then there was rain. My ears perked as I heard it hitting the side of the cabin. It started off slow at first, until it peaked up and came down in torrents. I found my fingers twitching and I was itching to go outside. I was brought back to the night of my marking when I went outside and washed myself clean in the midnight cloudburst.

I wanted to feel that again—needed to feel that again.

I made my way to the front door and unlocked the swing-bar latches, saving the coded lock for last. I remembered the code: 6666. MOON. As I went to type the code in, however, there was no green light or click to alert me I had the code right. Believing that maybe by finger had accidentally hit the wrong button, I tried to retype it. The same issue recurred, however. Zacharias had changed the code.

Finding myself trembling with panic, I tried a series of other codes. It brought me back to the day with the police officer...had I guessed the right code I could’ve had a chance that day. Who knew what would’ve happened? The officer could’ve killed Zacharias with his gun...then Zacharias’ pack would’ve killed us.

My lips were tight as I typed in random numbers—none of which worked. Again, he was doing everything he could to keep me locked in from the out. I didn’t even want to run away. All I wanted to do was stand in the grass and be cleansed by the rain, even if there wasn’t a break in the clouds to allow her holiness to grace me. I didn’t want much, but did I want too much to ask for?

I stood up from my crouching position, kicked the door, hurt my toes, and pressed my back against the door as I slid to the ground. I cried again, and I cried hard. We were back to square one all anew, and it was only because I hadn’t told him I loved him back. I felt like I was being unfair, when he was the one who was going to keep me trapped inside like I was some lab rat. Was this a test?

I didn’t know what Zacharias was testing me for, but whatever it was I hated it. And as I cried and cried, I realized that as long as I was under this roof I could not love him. What he had put me through, and what he continued to put me through, did not allow me to, amidst all the benevolent and sentimental debris, to fall in love with him. If it did, it would lead to my downfall. I was already nearly in ruins.

And I understood how hard it was to be an outsider looking in...but I also knew that it was better to be an outsider looking in than an insider looking out.

A series of loud, aggressive knocks rapped the door during the early, early hours of the night. I had fallen asleep at some point, tuckered out by my crying. The time on the stove said it was past two am. I had been asleep for three hours. I wondered, excitedly, if Zacharias had finally come back. It didn’t matter that the storm had beat him here...he was here now.

But then I remembered Zacharias didn’t have to knock on his own door. That meant it must be someone new. My excitement dissipated for a little bit, but remnants still lingered. Whoever this was, I could probably rope them into unwittingly being my therapist...through the door, of course. Like I was confessing my sins to a priest, in a way.

I stood up to my feet, cracking my sore limbs. However, whoever stood at the door was not a complete stranger. As I stood on my tippy-toes and looked through the peephole, I realized it was unnecessary because I could smell him through the gaps around the doorframe. I wondered why James was here, and I wondered why he was holding a plastic bag.

“I can’t let you in,” I called to him, forgetting he could hear me as well as I could hear him. I still had so many human qualities to me—so many human habits to kick and quit like smoking cigarettes. “He changed the code and I don’t know it.”

“Try 6275,” James yelled back, humouring me. I crouched down to my knees, pursing my lips as I typed in 6275. MNO, ABC, PQRS, JKL. The only word I could pull from it that would symbolize anything to Zacharias would be MARK. It made me feel stupid for not thinking to type it in, especially as the green light flashed and I was able to swing the door open. James flashed me a smile. “Good to know it wasn’t a false code.” He joked.

I nodded. “Yes. Do you have to come in?” I asked, not would you like to come in? Zacharias obviously sent him over here for a reason, but the reason was beyond me. Was James going to babysit me, ensure I didn’t do anything irrational? I wondered what trick Zacharias had up his sleeve—the tricks he kept at close call ensured he was always a step ahead of me.

He shrugged. “I don’t have to, but I can. If anything, I’d prefer it. There’s no thunder anymore but it’s still raining cats and dogs out here.”

I laughed. “Do I have to invite you in because you’re a vampire?” I asked, stepping to the side. He laughed softly as he stepped through the threshold, and sure enough he was drenched from the rain. I closed the door behind him.

“Guilty as charged. But I come as a vampire bearing gifts.” He said, wiping his feet on the mat as he handed me the plastic bag. I furrowed my brows as I took it and opened it up. Instantly I recognized the clothing inside of it—a hoodie and sweatpants set from my old school that I ordered in grade nine, the clothes I had evacuated from my father's in. I didn’t know if I had bragging rights that they still fit...

I looked up at James, meeting his coal eyes. His long hair was pulled back into a bun. “Y-you guys went into my house?”

"He went into your house. He went there this morning. He’s been holding onto these all day. He was just able to part with them minutes ago,” he swallowed, and I hugged the bag with my clothes close to me. “Edie, you’re going home. Zacharias is sending you home, and I am to take you. I know where you live, he had me drive there a few days ago.”

I felt my cheeks flush. “Zacharias is sending me away?” I asked, then scoffed. “Zacharias is...sending me away.” It felt like a dishonourable discharge, like I was being kicked out when I wasn’t ready to leave. It was evil, how as soon as I felt ready to stay, Zacharias was...sending me away.

“Edie,” James told me carefully. “I’ll explain it to you once you get into my truck. I know how this must seem to you, but it’s for the better. You need to get dressed out of his clothes, and then you need to meet me outside. I’ll be waiting directly out front for you.”

“James, I—I don’t know. Why is he doing this to me? Why don’t I feel ready to go? Why did he kidnap me and do all the things he did just to send me away? Who does that?”

“Edie, the longer I stay the more you’ll ramble and delay. My truck is already in position. I’ll wait for you in there.” His voice was clipped, leaving no room for disputes or arguments.

Again, that feeling of betrayal returned. Why had Zacharias put me through what he had, and then send his second-in-command to take me home? Why was sending me away when we still had unfinished business and bridges that needed to be burned? Why was he letting me leave feeling unsatisfied?

Before James closed the door he said, “if you’re not outside in five minutes, I will come back in and drag you out myself. I’m sorry, Edie, this is serious.”

And then there was one.

Again.

I exchanged Zacharias’ clothes for my own, but couldn’t find my shoes. I wasn’t going to do a solo manhunt for them, so I settled on leaving his cabin barefoot. As I stepped outside into the dreary, rainy night, i couldn’t bring myself to take one last look inside. If I did, I might’ve fought James tooth and claw to let me stay.

I flipped my hood over my head as I ran down the steps, feeling the heavy, rapid rain soaking me to the bones. It felt so nice and cold, refreshing. As the grass sloshed and squished beneath my feet, I felt like I was making another escape attempt. Except this one would be successful. Of course, the one that was mapped and dotted would be successful. I couldn’t get lucky on fluke.

As soon as I sat in the passenger seat, James was already taking off from the driveway. My seatbelt wasn’t even on by the time he started driving me far away from my prison that was as hard to escape from as Alcatraz. I was no longer to be locked up like Fort Knox. Now, I had to slip back into my old routines.

I remembered when I had stolen Zacharias’ truck I had made a left, so you could imagine my bitterness when James hooked a right. He pressed the gas and skidded like I had, saved himself quickly like I had, and started driving straight...like I had. “Edie, you’ll have to wear this around your eyes.” James told me, pulling something from his pocket and dropping it into my lap.

It was a long, scarlet scarf made of cashmere; and it was also my own scarf that I had stolen from my mom the day before I ran away, wearing it with pride. Although I hadn’t worn it in years, I found solace just knowing it was there...that I always had a piece of my mom with me, at least. But it seemed peculiar now to wear it around my eyes to act as a blindfold. “Why?” I asked him.

“So you won’t be able to identify the scenery if you ever try looking for this place,” James said. He seemed as uncomfortable as I did. “Zacharias demanded I blindfold you, but I figured that would probably traumatize you because it would seem like I’m kidnapping you—I’m not, not like he did—dammit. I’m sorry, Edie.”

“But won’t I be able to feel the twists and turns?” I asked hesitantly, delaying putting the blindfold on. It was a bizarre demand. I could easily just not do it, because I didn’t think James would force me. “And it’s all forest anyway, is it not?”

“Edie, please. If I have to pull over I’ll end up tying you up and throwing you into the bed of my truck. You might drown, because it’s flooded back there. And if you try to run, I guarantee that I’m faster than you. Good luck.” I had never heard him sound so assertive.

A bit caught off guard, I slowly tied my scarf around my eyes just so I wouldn’t drown in the back of James’ truck. Maybe he would force me...

He laughed once the blindfold was tied securely around my eyes. “I don’t even have rope, Edie. And you probably could run faster than me. I’ve never been quick on my feet.”

I felt my jaw clench. “I feel like I’m being held hostage.” I said absentmindedly.

There was a break of silence before James pulled another right. My body jerked and I smoked my head against the window since I hadn’t been able to anticipate and brace myself for the turn. I cursed under my breath as I rubbed my forehead, sure to have a goose-egg before sunrise. James laughed awkwardly. “I forgot about turns. I’ll give you a heads up when we’re about to reach a turn.”

“I appreciate it,” I groaned halfheartedly, then addressed the elephant in the space. “James, why is he sending me away? Is he unable to cope with what happened today? If so, that’s silly and you can tell him I’m very angry—murderously angry. Actually, tell him I’m already plotting revenge for all the shit he put me through for nothing. No, no, wait! Even if it’s not about today, tell him that I’m still plotting my vengeance. Wait—”

“Edie, its the dates. He’s sending you away because of the dates. Turn,” he said, and I braced myself as he hooked a left. “He’s afraid that they mean something regarding your mortality. Zacharias thinks that if you stayed there, you would die before years end. The 2018-2018 had him scared,” he paused. “What happened between you two today?”

I craned to face him, and forgot that I could not see him. I pursed my lips. “He told me he loved me, James.”

I envisioned him looking at me for a second, then looking back to the road. “Turn,” he warned, and I braced myself as he made another left. “Did you tell him you loved him back?”

“...no.”

“Why not?” He asked, and for a moment I felt like we were gossiping. But this was not gossip...in a way, this was the colloquy that was leading to a farewell. I was being dispatched. I may not have tied the loose ends with Zacharias, but I was tying them with James. I supposed it was good enough.

“Because I do not love him back,” I swallowed, and he told me he was turning. I braced myself as he turned right. “Wouldn’t it just be cruel to say it if it was only a lie? If I had said it back, Zacharias would’ve been able to tell. But do you think I hurt him more by not saying it back? Are you sure it doesn’t contribute at least a little bit as to why you’re driving me home right now?”

“You shouldn’t say it if it’s not true. He likes your fire, Edie, but he doesn’t want to get burned,” he took a deep breath. “He’s been mentioning this to me for a little while now. You were never here to stay forever. Well, you were up until Zacharias saw the dates. He never noticed them until he crashed into the side of your car. He told me about that incident. Do you remember what you had asked him?”

I nodded slowly. “I asked if it ever occurred to him that he could’ve killed me.”

“He told me he said to you that he did it knowing he wouldn’t kill you. However, he confided to me later that it didn’t occur to him that he could’ve killed you until you asked. After he talked to me, he went to look at the paintings and he saw the dates. He told me he had never been so scared. The end of your reign could’ve been then, and it could’ve been caused by him. He grew paranoid because of that incident.”

“So he sent me away because he was afraid—” James told me he was turning. “—That he had the potential to kill me, even unknowingly.”

“Zacharias is unaware of his own strength. He’s full male and full wolf, and runs purely on instinct and impulse. His instinct was to keep you with him at all costs, and his impulse was to ensure nothing got in the way of that. In doing so, he endangered you. He knows he’s hurt you. He’s afraid that in keeping you with him, he’ll kill you.”

I felt my face pale. My hand grew clammy as it gripped onto the car door. “So he’s sending me away because he can’t trust himself around me?” I scoffed, James turned again. “You’ve got to be kidding me. He’s kidnapped me, drugged me numerous times, held me against my will, run me off the road, tied me to a bed, marked me, and threatened to take my life away as he held my throat, and that dirty bastard decides now that hey, maybe I was a real piece of shit. Oh, I’ll just send her away and say I’m doing her a favour even though the damage is already done. Is that what you’re telling me that he’s told you?”

James’ voice was small. “Precisely. Also, turn.”

I braced myself. “So he’s sending me away simply because he can’t trust himself around me? After all this time he finally realizes the force he used against me was threatening to my safety? It took him almost thirty days to discover that?” I was livid, my blood boiling like hot oil. “Oh my God. Oh my fucking God. He just—oh my God.”

“Turn,” I braced myself. “Vent, Edie. I’m here for you now, okay?”

“That selfish piece of shit! I’ve made endless attempts to escape him. Time after time, and I couldn’t get away from him. He tells me over and over again that I belong to him and that being in that cabin with him was my new home. He tells me that I have a duty with him and I’m to bear him a child, and he pulls this shit? He tries to brainwash me to envision, or at least acclimate, to a life with him and then he just kicks me to the curb like I’m a piece of trash?” I was crying hysterically again, soaking the blindfold. Turn. “And all of a sudden he has a life-altering epiphany and he realizes that after all this time unnecessarily brainwashing me wasn’t good so he has to send me away? I can’t get over that. You know what? Fuck him for that. Fuck him for deciding when I stay and when I go, when I never got that choice. Fuck him for prolonging my exposure to him and his lifestyle. Fuck him for intertwining us then sending me away.”

James was silent, then I was too. There was nothing more to say.

James told me when we were in town, and minutes later made a phone call to the police then opened his window and disposed of the phone. He told me to be silent and because he listened to me ranting, I listened to him. He called them and told them to meet us at my address because he was dropping me off there—what he actually said was a lot less flattering, though, but still along those lines. I felt like I was being held for ransom, although James got no reward from this.

Once we stopped, I made a funny look. James must’ve saw it because he said, “we’ve arrived at our destination. I beat them here on purpose. I’ll be gone by the time they get here.”

“Do I take off my blindfold?” I asked him. I felt like I was in on this crime. I supposed I was, in a way. I was going to allow James to elude capture even though he hadn’t helped me escape Zacharias when I was back in their pack grounds; guilty by association. However, I understood that his hands were tied.

So it was only fair that I allowed him to tie mine. He unbuckled my seatbelt for me and pulled my wrists behind my back. I gasped, and on impulse tried to pull away. He held my wrists in place, though. “It’s all for show, I promise.” Begrudgingly, I allowed him to tie my wrists behind my back with what I assumed to be another scarf. I was in far too deep to flake out anyway.

I let out a breath of air. “What do I do now?” Yikes. Was I guilty by association too, now, for letting a criminal escape?

“I’m going to open the door, and you’re going to stumble out and collapse on the grass. Act drowsy, so when they place you in the hospital for the night you can think of a liable story to tell them in the morning when you give a statement. No matter what you tell them, Edie, it will never be traced back to Zacharias or I. Now, it’s just painting yourself as a victim, because that’s what you are. You’re a victim of a major crime and I’m sorry you had to go through that. The media will be, too.”

I simply nodded, because I was crying again. I couldn’t believe that I would miss James. But he was the only other person I socialized with under Zacharias’ dictating rule. He was my friend, in a sense. My friend, the messenger, who took me home.

“Goodbye, Edie.” He said, leaning over to open my door and kiss my cheek. It was platonic, I could feel. His lips didn’t linger.

“Goodbye, James.” I bid him before stumbling out like he had told me to. I could hear him slam the door, followed by the screeching of his tires as he sped off. I did what he had told me to do, stumbling onto the wet grass before collapsing. I laid on my stomach, getting more soaked by the rain. I started shivering.

And I waited for the law.

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