The Beauty of Grey

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Chapter 30

Detective Roth didn’t drive away as soon as I reached my front door. As I bent down to pick up my spare key that I usually kept under the doormat, I was horrified to discover that it wasn’t actually there. At first I was flabbergasted as to whom would’ve stolen my spare key, but then I realized Zacharias must’ve used it to get into my house. It would explain why there was no sign of a break in.

I looked back at Roth, but he wasn’t paying any attention to me. His eyes were glued to his rearview mirror, and at first I couldn’t understand why until I saw a mob full of the press running down the sidewalk toward my home. I was pretty sure their feet alone could create a gust of wind strong enough to blow my house in. It seemed aged since I last walked up the steps, creakier.

I felt my anxiety spike as I rose to my feet again, and looked back to Roth’s vehicle. He glanced at me for a second, then looked into his rearview mirror again. I was starting to panic, fearing I’d get cornered on my front steps. I didn’t think I was ready to feel another microphone hit my face. I might’ve ripped the head off with my teeth like a rabid, wild dog.

I decided instead of staring at the press-mob like a deer in the headlights, I was going to continue looking for my key. I emptied the mailbox that was overflowing with newspapers and letters, not even bothering to keep what looked important tucked underneath my arm. Once my mailbox was empty I stuck my arm inside and scoured for my key, but to no avail.

I hoped Zacharias hadn’t thrown my key into the bushes that surrounded my house like a second skirting, or I hadn’t somehow thrown my key into them as I emptied the mailbox. I considered running around back for a moment, but I knew the back door wouldn’t be unlocked. I felt both agoraphobic and claustrophobic in that moment, and wanted nothing more than to curl into myself.

My last hope was my hanging flowerpot that hadn’t had flowers planted in it since I moved in. The dirt was soft from last nights rain, so I wasn’t able to tell right away if it had been disturbed or meddled with. I stuck my hand deep inside, however, and felt around for my key. I couldn’t feel anything brass, and quickly felt hopeless.

The press was two houses away from mine, now, and I was certain I’d be crushed and mauled before I could make my way inside. Roth, at this point, seemed nearly territorial as he got out of his expensive car and slammed the door shut, running onto the sidewalk in front of my home so he could try to steer them away from me.

And then I felt my key. I could’ve cried as I tore the key from the very bottom of the flowerpot and ripped my hand from the soil, causing chunks of mush to land on the ground. My hands were trembling turbulently as I stuck the key into the lock and unlocked the door. The press had no consideration for my property as they ran onto my lawn that desperately needed to be mowed, shouting random questions at me.

I just stared at them blankly as I kneed the door open and walked inside. I closed the door behind me and locked it, leaving the key still in the keyhole as I slipped—well, kicked—my flip-flops across the room. I faced the space in front of me then turned around, resting my head against the door as I flicked the light on then wiped my dirty hand on my pants. I didn’t feel safe with the light off, even as the sunlight flooded in through every window.

I felt uneasy as I stood alone in my house. It used to make me feel safe because it had been my sanctuary. If it weren’t for this place, I’d have been homeless on the streets, if not even dead. I felt like I had spent the best years of my life in this house, and in a matter of speaking, I had.

The landlord was a kind and sympathetic divorcee who answered my plight of escape with open arms, giving me a discount on the rent to ensure that even with my minimum wage gas station job, I’d still be able to afford to live comfortably. I used to walk everywhere until I was finally able to afford to buy a used car. I didn’t live a life of luxury, but I was happy. I was fucking happy.

As soon as I had moved in I went to an outreach centre to enrol in a program to finish my schooling. I had been sixteen, with two years left, but the program treated everyone like they were adults looking to finish school as soon as possible. What took twenty months to complete, the program had me finishing in six. I had made a few friends while being there, but being as introverted and scorned as I was, seldom saw them outside

But there was one boy who took interest in me, and I took to him quickly too. We were star-crossed, I supposed, and he took me on a couple dates. We got along nicely and eventually had a relationship. He was nothing like my father, so it was easy to trust him, but I had never depended on him. I thought, at one point, he’d be my forever.

Once school was over, however, and all of us graduated, he disappeared into the big city and it was rumoured he went to a renowned school to be a lawyer. He never broke up with me, and he had left without saying goodbye, but I had grown so fond of him I couldn’t bring myself to move on. I hadn’t even finished when Zacharias came around. In fact, I was banking savings to eventually attend college in the same big city.

But I knew, then at least, that I meant nothing to that boy. If I had, he would’ve had the respect to break up with me, or at least tell me where he was going. When I had told Zacharias I dated boys who used me, I didn’t realize my outreach-fling fell under that umbrella as well. When Zacharias told me he’d never let me go, I believed him.

I also believed my fling.

I believed...James.

James must’ve not remembered me, such as I hadn’t remembered him, which wasn’t overly surprising given that I wasn’t his mate. At the time, I straightened my hair every single day and wore dark makeup around my eyes; which was enough to make me look like I could’ve been a completely different person. James had short hair at the time, and he went under a different name...or maybe a full name; Jamison.

When I first met James, I thought nothing of it. But then again, all I could focus on when I met James again was how badly I wanted to taste freedom. But because of James’ hospitality towards me, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe he did recognize me. Guiltily, he never gave me feelings of nostalgia, but now that I could think with a clear head, I recognized him.

So, as it turned out, James didn’t escape to the big city to become a lawyer; in fact, I doubted school was even necessary for him. I wondered why he did it. As a hobby? To do a study on humans? Or, maybe, he was looking for a mate...why else would a werewolf travel into the big city? Was he playing journalist?

Had he...recognized me? He must’ve, but out of respect for Zacharias he never brought up our past. I had been so frazzled and scattered that I never once noticed his familiarity—or, if I had, I never tried to place him. I wondered if Zacharias knew about him and I, and that’s why he never questioned James’ scent in his cabin.

I placed my back against the door and slid down onto my rear, feeling a heaviness settle onto my shoulders as I tuned into the retreating mob outside. Had James talked to Zacharias and managed to convince him that letting me go was in his best interest? I couldn’t help but wonder what role James played behind the scenes. I wondered if he tried to place a wedge between Zacharias and I, and that’s why he let me go. I had so many questions now, but no way to ask them.

It would explain my instant relaxation I felt around James, and how easy it was to talk...and freak out, at him. I had, coincidentally, met James after Zacharias had already marked me. I couldn’t help but wonder if the mark had put up my blinders in regards to recognizing him, only allowing me fondness towards Zacharias. Was it why James had trouble calling me by my title, because he had referred to me as Edie beforehand?

I ran my fingers along the arm of my couch, feeling the dust tickle my fingertips. I looked into the rays of sunlight, watching as the dust danced and stirred like snowflakes. I had a moment of complete serenity and silence, and the mob was no longer around. I closed my eyes as Roth drove off, leaving me alone. In that moment, as I stood bathed in sunlight, I felt no fear in the lack of company.

But as I opened my eyes again, I had that returning feeling of dread. I looked at the dividing wall, and was brought back to the moment Zacharias had grabbed me. I winced like it was happening again, and felt a terrible stone settle in the pit of my stomach. I remembered the fear, the unfamiliarity, the initial belief I was going to die.

I had to get over this—if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to move on.

I traced my fingers along the arm of the couch, releasing more dust flakes, until I broke away and looked at the stairs. There were no traces of dirt wedged in between the fibres of the carpet, so the crime-scene cleaners had done a good job tidying up. I could no longer smell Zacharias, either, so that was a plus. His removed scent wouldn’t be a constant reminder that he was once here.

I walked up the stairs, and my head started to spin as I remembered my urgency to run up them to get away from my attacker. I felt dizzy, suddenly, like I was on a swaying ship at sea. I felt my anxiety spike through the roof. I was reliving that fateful night over and over again, remembering as each scene played out. I couldn’t block out the images as they poked through like pop-up ads.

When I finished climbing the steps, that feeling of dizziness didn’t pass. The hallway seemed to stretch on for miles, and I felt like I was drunk as I stumbled to the bathroom. There were no shards of mirror that I could see, but I psyched myself out and imagined there were still remnants on the ground. Every time I blinked, I heard the mirror shattering over and over again. I wished it would stop. It felt like my ears were about to bleed at any second.

I walked into the bathroom and instantly flicked the light on. My bathroom seemed much bigger without the mirror, but it seemed heaps less bright as well. My shower curtain remained open, and I remembered my panic as I grabbed the shampoo bottle. I wondered if I’d ever close the bathroom door again.

I sat on the closed toilet lid and buried my face in my hands. I felt exhausted, all of a sudden. I couldn’t even walk through my house without getting post-traumatic stress. Everywhere I looked, I envisioned Zacharias. I expected him to be hiding behind open doors or lurking in nooks and crannies I had never bothered to check before. Even though I felt alone, I always had the feeling Zacharias was...around.

I could smell him coming from my bedroom, and I wasn’t yet brave enough to go in there. The smell wasn’t strong enough to lead me to believe he was presently in there, but it was still strong enough to let me know he had been in there at one point. I felt myself gulp as I envisioned Zacharias in my room, reaching into my closet and scouring my wardrobe.

It smelt fresh.

I took a shaky, unsteady breath as I sat up from the toilet seat. My clothes suddenly seemed too stuffy, and I thought that I should change them once I was in my bedroom. As I walked in, I couldn’t stop myself from peeking my head inside before actually crossing the threshold. Before I did, however, I turned on the light—even though with the brightness outside it didn’t make much of a difference.

My room reeked of Zacharias to the point it nearly made me feel ill. I had to close my eyes and brace my hand against the wall just so I wouldn’t tip myself over. I smelt him so vividly that my eyes began to water. I supposed I hadn’t fully realized the toll he had taken on me until being faced with only his scent and not him.

But his smell was bad enough. My bed smelt like him, my carpet smelt like him, his essence seemed to take up a percentage of the atmosphere in my room. I felt like I would collapse at any point, and eventually made my way over to my bed. I felt sweat swelling in their glands before surfacing and running down my forehead. I ripped my sweatshirt off of myself.

Then I ripped everything else off so I was sitting on the edge of my bed, fully naked. I couldn’t bear to sit in the bra and underwear set Zacharias had purchased for me. I’d rather denude and humiliate myself, which I did.

I collected the bra and underwear set, then walked over to my window and cracked it open. I stood naked and very ashamed, but couldn’t find the urge to hide and throw some clothes on. I was willing to bet if any of my neighbours were watching me, they were hoping I’d get kidnapped again. I went from loner to weirdo real quick.

Then to crazy bitch as I threw the bra and underwear set out of my window and onto the front lawn. To be fair, they were very good quality and any broad passing by would be lucky to have them. They were red, the colour of blood and desire and defiance. My defiance was in throwing them away.

I pulled back inside and closed the window, still in my glory. I barked a laugh—a manic, disturbed laugh as I threw myself onto my bed. Eventually, as I threw my hands over my face, I started into a fit of giggles and was brought back to my childhood years. Oh, how I longed to go back.

My toes scraped the floor, and as my laughter dwindled down I removed my hands and looked up to the ceiling, staring right into the bright yellow light. I blinked a few times, the light sending blades of pain into my skull. I felt like I was in the hospital again, knowing where I was but feeling displaced.

There was silence in my home. No tick of a clock, no creaks as the house settled. Nothing. I was alone. This should’ve relaxed my heart, but instead it caused its pace to quicken. I started to psych myself out again, creating sounds in my head that weren’t really there. I imagined footsteps walking up the stairs, a breath on my ear. My imagination didn’t leave me feeling alone.

But then the silence became too much.

And I screamed.

I screamed bloody murder the same way I did the night I was attacked. No-holds-barred, I let my voice run loose. I fisted my hair as I screamed, and felt no pain as my nails dug into my skull. I was in hysterics, and eventually sobs joined my screams. I had been in shock, somewhat numb, but then everything came crashing down like a tidal wave.

And I felt everything. Past, present, future. I was not escaping this time.

I remembered running away from home, and doing that successfully. I remembered starting over, getting settled, feeling proud of myself and what I had accomplished. I remembered meeting Zacharias at the gas station, and I remembered him kidnapping me a week later. I remembered trying to run away from him, and doing that unsuccessfully. I remembered hating him and hating him, and the moment I no longer hated him he sent me away. I remembered James and his kindness.

Everything was fucking with my head, and I felt it. I felt the impact. It hit me like a dozen bullets. I was damaged goods at best. I wondered if I’d forever feel like only a fraction of the person I was beforehand. I had left a piece of myself with Zacharias. I wondered if he’d ever be able to return that piece to me.

I just wanted to feel normal again. I viewed myself as some freak, like I had been kidnapped by aliens—well, close enough. But I felt like I had lost my sanity and my soundness. I wouldn’t be able to leave my house without always looking over my shoulder, I wouldn’t be able to live in a house without leaving the lights on, I wouldn’t feel safe in my own skin.

I was so bitter.

And wounded.

After my pity party for myself was over, I gathered a new set of clothes and undergarments and made my way into the bathroom. I had a long, hot bath and I had left the door open—which was probably more unsafe than closing it—to avoid feeling claustrophobic. I wasn’t going to lock myself in a bathroom twice.

After I was done bathing and dressing I decided I was going to clean my house—every single room, not just what looked like it needed to be cleaned like I had always done. I was going to be thorough so I could distract myself for a few hours. Normally I would’ve cranked the radio, but I felt safer leaving it off. I knew the moment I turned on music, I’d let my guard down. Music possessed a way of doing that to you, I supposed.

So I did everything. Dusted, washed, scrubbed, rubbed, vacuumed and steam-cleaned. By the time I was finished it was nearly supper, but even with all the cleaning I hadn’t worked myself up an appetite. What I really could’ve went for was a coffee, so I quickly made myself a mug then sat on the sofa.

My landlord stopped by not too long after and gave me a big, motherly hug as soon as I opened the door and even planted a slobbery kiss onto my cheek. She told me she prayed every night for my safe return and she was so relieved that I was back alive instead of in a body bag. She told me not to worry about paying rent for three months, which I was thankful for because I wasn’t sure if I still had a job.

After my landlord left, I turned on the television—which I felt like I hadn’t done in forever—and roamed through all of the channels on my subscription. I had quite a few channels, and felt rather disheartened when nothing good was on. I decided I’d roam room through the DVD box I had placed next to the television.

It felt like a Martin Scorsese kind of night. I was wired for sound and knew I wouldn’t sleep anytime soon, so I popped in my favourite movie by him: Casino. Then Goodfellas, then Raging Bull, Shutter Island, Cape Fear, Gangs of New York. Scorsese movies were long, and after about fourteen cups of coffee I decided I couldn’t watch another one of his movies even if I tried.

I didn’t enjoy them like I had used to. Every time I heard a noise that wasn’t being projected from one of the movies, I put the movie on pause and looked around with wide eyes. I had to stop doing this to myself. I was no longer in danger, but I couldn’t turn off the switch that made me feel like I was.

Every single light in the house was on, so I shouldn’t have felt any fear as I put my mug into the sink. I was too scared to go to bed but I was also too scared to keep standing where I was. I started considering buying a dog or a cat or something, just so I could have some domestic four-legged company.

I was dead-tired but so wide awake as I made my way up the stairs, all the lights already turned on. When I entered my room, I glared at my bed that was in the centre. Once I laid down, I’d have two sides to watch and protect. I couldn’t sleep like that.

I moved my bed to the wall that was opposite of the window. My overhead light was on, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep like that, so I pulled a nightlight from one of my dresser drawers and plugged it in. When I shut off my overhead light I quickly jumped into my bed and pulled the covers over myself, as though I was a child seeking shelter from a ghost or demon.

The nightlight was bright enough. I laid facing the window, but then realized if I laid facing the window then I couldn’t properly see into the threshold. I debated on moving my bed again, but knew that no matter where I placed it I would not feel content. I couldn’t wait until morning came. Morning felt safe...r.

Instead of stirring I fluffed my pillow about a dozen times. I felt tired but I couldn’t sleep, and every time I squeezed my eyes shut they’d pop back open again. At some point, as the sun started to rise, they started to sting from exhaustion. I knew I couldn’t blame it on the caffeine. Caffeine had never been a pick-me-upper.

Eventually I passed out—because it certainly couldn’t be considered falling asleep. I rested good and steady, like I hadn’t slept in days. It was dreamless and black, which was just what I needed. If any sort of mirage rippled the blackness, I’d have woken up instantly.

But I still woke up instantly, however, as I heard a knock on the front door downstairs.

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