The Beauty of Grey

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Chapter 31

*Trigger warning

I shot awake instantly, a burst of energy projecting me to sit upright. Despite the fact that I was fully clothed, I still held the covers tight to my body as though I was nude and vulnerable. I was not nude, however, but I was still very much vulnerable; feeling naked to potential threats—friend or foe

I rolled my eyes shut as I dropped back to the mattress, my chest heaving dramatically like I had just emerged from deep water. Sweat made me feel sticky but did nothing to warm my skin. My cheeks burned, though, as if I was just coming down from a fever, but I felt cold. My teeth were clattering from nerves and an insatiable chill.

I laid still for a few more moments, trying to calm myself enough to stand. Whoever was outside was impatient and very inconsiderate, knocking louder as if trying to act as an alarm clock. I hoped it wasn’t a press-member desperate to ask questions for a cover story. I wished I had asked Roth for a way to reach him so he could scare whoever was outside away.

The knocking turned into pounding, sending my heartbeat into a flurry of stutters. I slowly sat upright, throwing the covers off of me as I stepped onto my cool flooring that sent a chill up my spine. My toes curled and my knees shook violently to the point I had to grip onto my footboard as I made my way forward. I checked my reflection in the mirror vainly, but decided there was nothing I could do to rid myself of my eye bags. I tucked my face inside my shirt for a moment to remove the sweat from my forehead, but did no more to pretty myself up.

The knocking erupted again as I made my way to the stairs, and as I looked down the steps I witnessed everything coming in and out of focus as though I had been struck with a wave of vertigo. I noticed, instantly, the incessant pounding in my skull as sunlight crept in through my living room window, bending light against the pale walls. I placed a hand on my eyebrows, acting as a visor as I made my way down the stairs; panting by the time I was all the way down.

I tiptoed to the front door, hoping it wasn’t another shifter outside with hearing as good as mine. So far, I wasn’t able to detect the smell of anything other than...a human. Pure human, not human-laced-with-beast. Human. Pure human. A human that smelt oddly familiar, and caused my already blanched face to blanch further. I had expected a rogue press-member or even James.

Believing my senses to be betraying me, I still approached the door with caution, resting my hand against the cool wood as I stood on my tiptoes and peeked through the peephole. I was frozen for a moment, breath failing to regulate as I focused on who was outside. I would’ve preferred a media-journalist over who was outside any day of the week. Hopefully, if I backed away slowly and made no notion I was home, whoever was outside would go away.

“I know you’re home,” he said, voice still as hard and steely. I lowered my heels back to the floor, resting my forehead against the door as I closed my eyes, making a sour face as though I had just eaten a lemon. “You cannot ignore me, Edie.”

And he was right. I couldn’t ignore him. I had been rejected by him so many times, told that I was nothing and I was unloveable and that I was an embarrassment. I had believed it, given how I threw myself at boys during high school and how they treated me as a result of that, how I was never able to maintain friendships, how my own mother wouldn’t even fight to stay alive.

But he was right, I couldn’t ignore him. I could not leave my father standing outside. I should’ve been able to, I knew that, and given how he had never given me paternal love I should’ve been rejecting him—leaving him outside, keeping the door shut so he couldn’t come in and see his revenant-daughter. But I was not like that.

I was not entirely cruel or callous. After all, I escaped my father with more ease than I escaped Zacharias.

“Please let me in, Edie, I can’t—won’t stay for long. I respect that you don’t want to see me, but I’ll leave whenever you ask me to. All I ask for is five minutes, then you’ll never see me again.” I had never heard my father beg nor plead for anything from me. He said I should’ve been more like this or that, but he had never begged me to live up to his unattainable standards.

I stood in front of the door shell-shocked. As much as it must’ve seemed like I returned from the dead, it felt the same for my father—my father who had never tried to get in touch with me but suddenly appeared on my doorstep. I felt sick to my stomach, as though I could’ve vomited on my own feet. I didn’t want to let him in, but I was curious now.

I was curious if he’d beg for my forgiveness.

Swallowing down my anxiety and trying to suppress the brewing in my stomach I peeled myself from the door, running a hand through my lions-mane as I unlocked the door and opened it enough for him to see my face. I wasn’t ready to allow him into my home, my home I had just reclaimed. I was afraid his presence might taint it, make it feel like it was no longer my sanctuary. This was, after all, my sanctuary away from him.

My throat constricted as I locked eyes with my father, his stare as dark as mine used to be. “D-dad,” I stammered, lips pursing as my stomach curdled. A wave of nausea hit me, nearly bringing me to the ground. He must’ve seen my moment of weakness because uncharacteristic concern dazed his expression for a moment. I rebooted, however. “What a surprise.”

“I’m sorry to show up unannounced,” he said, looking at his shoes. He was still handsome, of course, but he had aged—clearly, he had aged. Crows-feet gathered by his eyes and the skin on his cheeks was beginning to sag. His dark hair was peppered grey. He wasn’t aging poorly, not quite, but it was evident he had been slapped by life once or twice. “I didn’t know what number to reach you at.”

“Then how did you know what address?” I asked him, suddenly guarded and stiff. A brief whisper of paranoia told me that he had been stalking me—my own father, which was ridiculous. But in my mind, it seemed fair. It was how Zacharias had managed to find me. Zacharias and my father were similar, I was sure their modes and methods crossed over in many, many places.

“I was watching the news and someone submitted footage of you entering your house. They caught the address, and so did I,” he looked awkward, severely awkward. I was awkward as well, but mainly skeptical. “Can I come in?”

I hesitated, worrying my lip as I looked him up and down. He had never dressed so well—a navy dress shirt and grey jeans with fancy Lacoste sneakers. His eyes weren’t bloodshot, which surprised me, because it meant he wasn’t under the influence of anything. It was strange. I couldn’t remember the last time I had looked at my father sober.

But then I noticed a duffel bag by his feet, something I hadn’t noticed before. I honed in on it, like a hawk on a freelance gopher, fearing that it was something explosive or dangerous. Was he going to try and blow my house up? No, now I was just being safe—too safe to the point I was being droll. I wanted to snap myself out of my funk, but I knew it wasn’t that easy.

“What’s in the bag?” I asked cautiously, my voice prickly and tense. I didn’t look away from the bag, even as I felt my fathers eyes burning holes in my scalp.

“A present. I need to come inside. I know you do not love me, nor do you trust me, and I understand that, but I need you to trust me just this once,” I furrowed my brows, but still didn’t look at him. This prompted him to continue rambling. “I would like to redeem myself—no, I would like to...promote myself. I don’t want you to hate me anymore.”

My jaw clenched. “I don’t hate you, I feel nothing for you.” I corrected.

“And somehow that feels worse.” He said, but in a way where it wasn’t like he was guilt tripping me. He was thinking out loud.

“It should.” I finalized, taking a step back and opening the door. He was my father, I kept telling myself, reeling it over and over again in my head, trying to convince myself I wasn’t making a mistake by allowing him into my bubble. Last time my bubble was invaded by a man I was swept away from my cozy little life.

His mouth tightened into a flat line as he picked up the duffel bag, struggled a little bit with it, and brought it inside with him. He took off his shoes on the placemat, and as he took in his surroundings I investigated outside, then closed my door but did not lock it. I was no fool, if I had to make a break for it I was going to make it easy for myself.

My father looked into my living room and made his way into the kitchen, still holding onto the duffel bag. My interest was peaked and heightened, craving to know what he was keeping secret from me. But I had a killer pride, and wouldn’t ask right away. I’d conjure up my own theories and have them debunked once what was inside was revealed.

Instead, I asked, “would you like a coffee?”

My father turned around and looked at me, clearly taken aback by my offer. Nervous, I rubbed my arms up and down, creating friction that did little to warm me up. He seemed to debate with himself for a moment, negotiating with his angel and devil, before nodding. “A coffee sounds great.”

“Great.” I said, then brushed past him as I walked into my kitchen. I put the filter in the coffee maker then added the coffee, filling the back reservoir with water and turning the machine on. I could smell stress-sweat from my father, and was thankful when I knew he wouldn’t be able to smell it off of me. No longer was I habitual in my own home, I was unfamiliar.

“You have a nice place here. You have your mothers touch.” My father said, which instantly had me jumping down his throat. Him mentioning my mothers name seemed inappropriate, given how he had treated her like a piece of trash. I was quick to rush to her accolade.

“What do you mean by that?” I snapped at him, standing in front of the coffee machine, keeping my back turned to him. If I were to look at him, I’d break down into angry tears. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me cry, of seeing me break.

“She could make a home out of anything,” he said. “When we first moved into our house, the house we raised you in, it wasn’t nice. It was gloomy and lacklustre, but she made it feel homey. You’ve managed to mimic the same thing, in an entirely different way.”

Praise. Praise. Praise. This was foreign to me, and I was suspicious that the man before me wasn’t my father at all, but another man trapped inside my fathers body. Last time I seen him, he held hostility and rage and acrimony towards me; now, the shoe was on the other foot. I held hostility, rage and acrimony towards him. I suddenly wished to turn him away.

The coffee started to percolate in the silence of me percolating a response that wasn’t too distant. In the end, I couldn’t stop myself from questioning him. “Why are you here, and why are you so different?”

He didn’t miss a beat, quick to oblige me with answers. “Yes, I know my visit is unwarranted...but I wanted to see you,” He sat down at the kitchen table, dropping the bag at his feet. I turned around and glanced at it, but ultimately he had captured my attention. The urge to cry had passed. “I thought you were dead, Edie. I thought the next time I heard about you, it would be about your remains—or I’d have to come and identify you to a coroner. I thought that maybe you would disappear forever, but you didn’t. I will not take your life for granted again. You are alive.”

“That doesn’t explain why you’re so different.” I cried over the percolating coffee that steamed behind me, filling my home with the smell of strong, Colombian coffee.

“I’ve been attending AA meetings and I have a counsellor,” he said proudly. “I’ve been trying to get back on the right track. It took you running away for me to realize I needed to improve myself. I walked around as an arrogant, entitled cocksucker and I realize the damage I have done. I am different now, Edie. I promise you I’m not the father I was the last time I saw you.”

I regarded him with skepticism, tilting my head slightly to the side. “And you never thought to try and get in touch with me sooner? It was only until you heard news I could possibly have been dead in a ditch somewhere that you figured you should try and find me? What if I hadn’t even run away, dad, and I was kidnapped then? What would you have done?”

“I knew you weren’t kidnapped, Edie, your bedroom window was open. I knew I couldn’t keep you locked under my roof, even then I was smart enough to know you didn’t need me. I didn’t think you’d ever want to see me, and I wasn’t ready to see you. I’ve made progress, but I haven’t reached self-fulfillment yet. It’s become clear you aren’t ready to see me now, but I’m ready to see you.”

I shook my head side to side, in shock and denial. “Do you forgive yourself for what you’ve done to me, and what you’ve done to mom?”

He pursed his lips, skepticism directed at me now. This was enough to aggravate me, and I was about to tell him where the door was but he spoke before I could. “I’ve had no choice. If I didn’t forgive myself, I couldn’t move forward; I couldn’t better myself. But don’t think for a second I don’t live with remorse. Every morning I wake up, Edie, I’m plagued with it. I wish I could go back and redo everything, but I can’t.”

He, like Zacharias, avoided that s-word like it was a derogatory curse word. Self-pity left, right and centre. I looked down at my father, I realized, having zero reverence for the man who gave me life. “Do you remember what you said to me when you found mom and I came running?”

He gave me a look—at first it seemed menacing, but then I sensed the urgency. Slowly, he shook his head. “No, I’m sorry, I do not.” But I could tell he was lying—he was a terrible liar, always going slightly cross-eyed when he wasn’t telling the truth.

“Would you like me to refresh your memory?” The coffee stopped percolating in the background, permitting a silence that thickened the air. We held eye contact, both of us firm and unrelenting. It was no longer a matter of challenge or pride—no, the stakes were higher; far higher. It was now a matter of correctness—of remembrance and acknowledgement. I knew that resentment was forgivenesses ugly cousin, but I couldn’t let my father leave without confronting the biggest burden he bestowed onto me.

“Edie, I—”

“’She killed herself because you aren’t good enough. You’ve never been good enough, and you will never be good enough.’”

He looked down at the table, and I turned back around, grabbing two mugs from my cupboard before pouring two cups of coffee. Nonchalantly I asked him what he took in it but he said black was fine. Craving for undiluted caffeine, I decided to follow suit. I brought our mugs to my kitchen table, setting his cup down in front of him as I took the seat across from him. He couldn’t even look at me, which prompted me to stare at him with nothing but judgement and ire.

“It pisses me off that you forgave yourself before I could forgive you,” I blurted, unable to follow etiquette and bite my tongue. “God, I can’t even begin to tell you how much that pisses me off. I have to live with the fact that you told me I was responsible for her death, but you—you forgave yourself,” I started to clap at him, mocking him. “Kudos.”

“You’re not responsible for her death. Nor am I, Edie.” He still couldn’t look at me.

“What makes you think that?” I hissed at him, resisting the urge to throw my hot coffee in his face. I wanted to hurt him, physically, I wanted to watch him bleed and cry and bleat. I wanted to stand over him and laugh at him as he begged for my forgiveness, forgiveness he was too late to ask for.

“Because I never held the blade to her wrist. I gave her reasons to do it, I gave her plenty, but I did not make those cuts. But you—” he shook his head, running his hands through his hair; a nervous habit I inherited. “You are not responsible, not one bit. You were a child, and what I said to you was something I should’ve never said. I’m sorry, my daughter.”

“You know, he was just like you,” I laughed, breaching hysterics. “He could’ve been a clone or something. He was so much like you. It was like I was kidnapped by my father. I now know what it’s like to be mom, and I know what it’s like to want a final out. He drove me mad, just like what you did to mom. And now you come here, in my home, and you have the audacity to tell me you’ve forgiven yourself? I refuse to accept that, I cannot accept that, because I cannot forgive myself.”

“Edie, you are my flesh and blood, and I understand that you hate me; and please, don’t think I’m trying to force your forgiveness, but you need to forgive me so you can forgive yourself.” And still, he couldn’t look at me. I wanted him to look at me—needed him to, even. I needed to look him in the eyes when I said what I said next.

“Look at me,” I said to him, and he did without restraint. I leant forward, crossing my arms on the table. “When you said I was responsible for moms death, I believed you; I carried her death as a burden that I had given to myself. Over the years I wasn’t able to convince myself I wasn’t responsible, I could only convince myself I was guilty.

“And you want to know what else is funny? When I was kidnapped, a cop came and nearly got me out of there, but my abductor killed him mercilessly. And you know what, I relived moms death all over again. I was responsible for another death, for someone who deserved better. It made me feel like I was, above everything else, the true hazard.”

“So you did know about the cop?” Was all my father pulled from my speech. It took me all I had to swallow down my scream. But I had also realized my mistake—I had told my father about the cop, but denied correlation to Detective Roth.

“Have my statements been made public?”

“No, it was just on the radio they said there was no further leads on the police officer. It was aired after your return,” he lifted his mug and took a sip of his coffee, cringing at the strength, but taking another sip. “I figured if you knew about the cop you’d have said something, providing new leads.”

“I don’t know where he is, that is the truth,” I was focused on the cop, suddenly; on my mistake. “I was not able-bodied when he was being disposed of. I couldn’t provide much help to his case, anyway.”

“I know you, Edie, you would have said all you could anyway—”

I cut him off. “What do you know about me?” I snapped.

“What I mean is,” he recovered smoothly. “You would’ve told the detectives all you could, and they could’ve ruled his disappearance a homicide, and it would’ve said so on the news. But you didn’t. You mentioned none of him. Why is that?”

Interrogator had become interrogated. “I-I’m not sure. It slipped my mind, I suppose.”

“Clearly not because you just blurted it to me. I know I have nothing to offer you besides a duffle bag and an apology, but I would just like to know why you kept that a secret?”

I ran a hand through my hair. “What does it matter? Are you going to tell the police I’ve been withholding information? It wouldn’t be a good place to begin making amends.”

“I will do no such thing, because I know that isn’t my place. But I have my speculations, daughter, and I want you to debunk them.”

I gave him a tight smile, took a sip of my hot coffee and winced. “I think I would only verify what you’re speculating.”

“You cared about him,” my father said, and when I didn’t respond he took it as a means to continue. “You developed Stockholm syndrome for the man who kidnapped you. You were trying to protect him, prevent him from getting caught. But why, Edie? If he reminded you so much of me, how could you care about him?”

“You have no grounds to ask me that!” I yelled, feigning anger. In all honesty, I couldn’t give him an answer and I hated his wording. I couldn’t tell him the truth because he wouldn’t believe me, but I couldn’t come up with a lie on the spot. “You have no clue what it’s like to be a hostage to anything other than alcoholism.”

“You’re right, Edie,” he agreed, deathly calm. I expected him to lunge across the table and wring my neck like a washcloth. Instead, however, he took another small sip of coffee and softened his stare as he looked at me. Affection, I detected. “But I simply do not understand.”

“I don’t know. But mom had Stockholm syndrome when it came to you, so I guess it’s just easy to care for shitty people.”

My father merely pursed his lips and nodded, his expression that of sullenness and defeat. I felt no sorrow for him as he stood up, took his mug and dumped his coffee in the sink before placing it in the dishwasher. He did everything with gentleness and care, as if to not set me off again.

“I know I cannot buy your love,” he said as he came up behind me, clasping a firm hand on my shoulder. My eyes watered as I looked into my mug of swirling black coffee. I tensed instantly, but he never moved his hand. There was no connection, however, no bond established. I felt...nothing. “But please accept my gift.”

And then his hand was off my shoulder and he was at the front door putting on his shoes, and then he was gone and I knew that he was right and I would never see him again—that this was much more than a spontaneous visit. In its own respects, it was him saying his goodbye to me for good.

He knew there was no chance of reparation. I was too combative and hostile, and he knew I would not miss him. I hadn’t missed him in my nearly four years away from him. And as I heard an engine start and drive away, I felt myself relax. I sipped on my coffee as I tried to soothe the adrenaline streaming through my veins, trying not to think of the duffel bag.

But as soon as I was finished my coffee I was on my knees beside it, eager to see what was stashed inside.

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