The Beauty of Grey

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Chapter 33

The bell continued to ring in my ears long after the door closed behind the mysterious girl. It gave me an instant headache, a headache strong enough to fuzz my vision for a few moments. I looked down at my coffee as I blinked away the fog, not looking up until I could do so with clarity. The ringing diminished, but didn’t yet cease.

She had an etherealness to her, one that could bring even Julia Roberts to her knees. Even as I came to terms with what exactly she was, I couldn’t deny the beauty she was blessed with. I had never thought myself to be unpleasing to the eyes, but she could’ve been a Pinterest model.

A look of concern grew on her face, brows slightly darker than her fawn-coloured hair furrowing, nose crinkling. She could smell me as well. She didn’t look afraid, so she knew I wasn’t a threat, but she also knew she wasn’t the only one of her kind in the diner. I could see her staring at me from her peripheral, but she refused to look at me directly.

She shuddered, rubbing her arms with a sudden chill. I watched her with scrutinizing eyes as she did this, like a bird of prey honing in on a meal from a short distance. She couldn’t have been any taller than me, and she was a little slimmer. I wonder if I made her feel like prey.

The lady at the counter called to her. “Take a seat, ma’am, I’ll be with you in a minute.”

“O-oh, alright,” said the lady in red, a slight cadence italicizing her words. French, I assumed. “Thank you.”

Even her voice was soft. She reeked of innocence and vulnerability, like a baby bird leaving its nest for the first time. I watched as she, with shaky knees, sat in a booth two away from mine with her back turned to me. I couldn’t help but imagine her on four legs with her ears flattened and her tail tucked. I didn’t believe her to be a coward, of course not...just indirect.

I sipped on my black coffee and considered leaving her alone, just letting her eat in peace. But I couldn’t. Her pheromones weren’t strong enough to be that of a full werewolf, because I could still smell her humanness. Was she like me? The possibility didn’t seem nonviable. She must’ve been like me, a halfbreed. Was her story like mine?

I took a few more sips of coffee before I stood to my feet, preparing to introduce myself obliviously by comparing the fact we were wearing the same shoes. Of course she would see right through it, but I had to introduce myself one way right? Ease her into my presence, perhaps.

I walked over to her booth, deciding against instantly taking the seat across from hers like I owned the place. I stood facing the table, looking down at her. Her eyes were like glassy blue marbles as she looked down at her lap, hands clammy as she wrung them nervously. Had she been through something similar to me? Did she think I was malevolent, that I meant her harm?

I swallowed, holding the mug of coffee in one hand as I used the other to point at her feet. “Hey, not to seem creepy but I couldn’t help but notice we’re wearing the same shoes,” definitely creepy. Fuck, fuck, fuck. “I really like your outfit.”

She wouldn’t look up at me. “Th-thank you.” She said, voice tremulous. I had the sudden urge to hug her. She was terrified I was going to harm her which made me feel guilty, even though I had no intention to.

“I think we may have a few things in common,” I said bluntly, clearing my throat. “I’d like to ask you a few things. Like, for starters, where you got that jacket because it is swell.”

“Is this woman bothering you?” Asked the waitress who had attended me, coming up behind us. Initially I felt offended, but then I realized how it must’ve seemed to onlookers. It looked like I was trying to intimidate the lady in red. I wouldn’t blame her if she said I was.

The girl finally looked up, eyes bright enough where it looked like they could guide ships at sea from a lighthouse. I realized how our features created a stark juxtaposition between the two of us; my features dark, hers light. It was a total textbook case. Dark and light.

Her blue eyes locked contact, as if trying to read into my soul and see what I wanted with her. Changing my stance from complimentary, I tried to make my eyes plead. I was ready to get on my knees and supplicate. Hell, I would’ve kidnapped her myself even if only to ask a few questions.

Okay, maybe not. But still.

That wouldn’t be needed, however. Her mouth formed an O as her eyes widened and she pointed at me. “Oh my gosh! I remember you now, we went to high school together. Please, please sit down! I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize you sooner! It’s been so long.”

She couldn’t have been older than me by more than a year or two.

But I played along, I liked her tactic. “Whew, thank God! Thought I recognized the wrong person. Thank you!” I set down my coffee and slid into the booth across from her.

The waitress seemed alleviated that there was no conflict. “I love reunions,” she said, taking out her notepad. “What can I get for you? Coffee?”

“No, thank you,” said the lady in red. “I’d love a coke and...” she pursed her lips, deliberating, before the lightbulb went off in her head. “A piece of cherry pie.”

“Whipped cream?” Asked the waitress.

“You got it. Thank you.”

The waitress said it would be a few minutes, most likely when my meal arrived, then scurried off. The moment she did, the mood shifted from one of tenseness to one of flat-out presentiment. There was no hostility, but there was a feeling of accusation that she was bestowing onto me.

I met her eyes, expecting guardedness and steeliness, but instead they seemed as childlike as ever. I decided to give her my name, hoping it would comfort her a bit. “Edie.” I said, holding out my hand.

It took her a few seconds before she placed her hand in mine. “Simone.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said, giving her hand a firm shake. “I don’t want you to think I’m here to hurt you. I’m not, really. I just want to ask you a few questions. I can’t help but sense we have a few things in common, not including our shoes.”

“I saw you on the news,” she blurted, gently pulling her hand from mine before slipping off her coat. “It was like you came back from the dead. I didn’t expect you to be...well, you know. Canine.” Her accent seemed stronger with her nerves. I imagined her in paralyzing fear, praying in rapid French.

“Well, what about you? What’s your story? I know you’re like me. You’re just a halfbreed.” I didn’t mean for halfbreed to come out sounding as disgusted as it did. I wasn’t disgusted with her...I was disgusted with the man who made me the same thing. I hoped she didn’t take it the wrong way.

She didn’t, however. She must’ve understood. “I was kidnapped by the same thing that kidnapped you,” she swallowed, putting two and two together. “It happened last year. Remembrance Day. Did you hear about the case?”

I tried to recall, but couldn’t. “No, I’m sorry, I did not.”

She gave me a small smile, two crescent moons gathering under her eyes. I envisioned her smiling broadly, eyes crinkled as her cheeks glowed. She was absolutely stunning. “I told everyone I ran away,” she said. “I could’ve came up with a good story, but I didn’t want the drama. I just wanted to be left alone by the public. I was mourning myself.”

“You just wanted to forget,” I related, and she gave me a small nod. Her shoulders relaxed. Finally, someone who understood. “I made the mistake of brewing a false story. Now I have a detective up my ass and a false story that follows me everywhere.”

“They blasted me in the newspapers for a while,” she said. “Insulted all of my character traits and made a few up. It should’ve gotten to me, but it didn’t. I mean, they didn’t know the truth but I did. To some I was a villain who scared my town for no reason, to others I was a hero who pulled off a sick stunt. But to myself, I was just trying to move on. I’ve been staying with my best friend for a while, but she resents me. That’s what got to me. I wanted to tell her the truth, but I didn’t want the resentment to turn into hate. It’s a very, very thin line. I’m right in between hero and villain to her. But leaning more to one side, I think.” She added sadly. Villain.

“I shot myself in the foot. I said the wrong things and now I have to skip town. I want to move to the big city. I want to go to university. I even cut my hair just because I couldn’t stand looking at myself in the mirror.” I subconsciously ran my fingers through my short strands. Simone looked at me with sympathy, and I was thankful it wasn’t pity.

“I’m heading to the airport. I’m catching the red-eye to Halifax to visit my parents. I think my best friend is happy I’m getting out of her hair. I’m debating on if I’m going to come back or not. I haven’t bought a return ticket yet. I don’t thinks it’s safe for me here. I’ve felt so homesick lately,” her eyes started to water. “I miss my family.”

“Did they hear of what happened to you?” I asked, afraid she was going to cry. I wouldn’t know what to do.

“They heard it from the tabloids first and called me before I could call them. I told them it was more complicated than what I told the papers and the cops.”

“Did they understand?”

“My family is extremely introverted and private, so they did understand. I promised them I’d tell them the truth as soon as I got there,” she swallowed. “But I’m not going to. I already have a concrete fiction.”

“Try it out on me if you’d like,” I said. “I’ll tell you if I’d believe it or not.”

The waitress came over with our orders and placed them in front of us, telling us she hoped we enjoyed them as she walked away. The burger made my stomach somersault, and as I took the first bite those somersaults turned into cartwheels. It was the best burger I had ever eaten. Grease dripped onto my chin, and I wiped it with my napkin before taking another bite.

Simone laughed softly. “Been a while?” She asked, her fork scraping her plate as she took a big bite of her cherry pie. The smell of the hot cherry filling made my mouth water. God, it was so nice to splurge.

“Been far too long. You?” I said, amidst another huge bite.

“Far too long,” she agreed, taking a sip of coke. “You still want me to tell you my story?”

“Yes, of course. I may be eating like a pig, but I am listening.”

“Okay,” she laughed. “My story is that I got involved with a bad guy, someone who was obsessive and possessive and...overall just dreadful. I’m going to tell them I went on the run out of fear for my life, and only came back when I knew I was in the clear.”

“What about the police? What if your parents ask why you never turned to them?”

“I’ll tell them he threatened my friends and everyone and everything that I loved, or that I went to the police and tried to get a restraining order against him but had no legal grounds because of lack of evidence. You know how cops work: he said, she said. They’d believe his word over mine, naturally. Which one do you think is more believable?”

“Both. Say you tried to get a restraining order out of fear for your life but it was a bust, and then he threatened if you ever went to the cops again he’d harm everyone you loved. Therefore, running away becomes your only choice.” I continued to chow down on my burger.

She swallowed a bite of pie. “Oh, that’s brilliant. Thank you. You’re very smart, a big help.”

“No need for thanks, it should be me thanking you,” I swallowed a bite of burger before taking a sip of black coffee. “How did he treat you? You know, the mutt.”

Silence. I looked up from my nearly half-eaten burger. Her blue eyes seemed hollow, thousand-yard stare searing into my endoskeleton. It was like she was malfunctioning, a glitch sending her brain into overdrive. I wanted to take the question back right away, pretend I never asked her. I knew how it felt reliving my experience, let alone having to relive it to another person. I was about to tell her not to worry about it, but she suddenly took a bite of pie, swallowed it, and proceeded to answer my question.

“He never hit me. I can tell you that. He did a lot of things, cruel things, things that thrust me into confusion and peril, but he never hit me. I’m not a strong person,” she told me, taking a sip of coke. “I have trouble sticking up for myself, and I’m not physically advantageous, but I’m crafty. Adaptable, too, I suppose. I gave him a run for his money,

“I met him at a concert. I was a musician, a flutist. After my performance I went outside to put my instrument alongs with my friends in my best friends car, and he followed me out. He introduced himself to me then. You know the drill. Tall, dark and handsome. His name was Nathaniel. He was charismatic and scary, but I didn’t think much of him. Not until later, of course,

“But after he kidnapped me, that charisma left. He wasn’t completely callous to me. He didn’t treat me like I was trash, but he weakened me. You must know what I mean when I say he was always a step ahead? It was incredibly inconvenient. We had the kind of relationship that would be interesting on paper, but wasn’t healthy in the least. It was hard to escape.”

I nearly choked on the bite of my burger. I coughed as I swallowed, taking the last few gulps of my coffee. “You escaped?!” I whisper-yelled.

She took a bite of pie. “I did. Didn’t you?” She asked innocently, taken aback by my surprise.

“No. Oh my God, no. My kidnapper, his name was Zacharias. He had a beta, James was his name. I had known James because we attended outreach classes together, but I didn’t realize it until later. James and Zacharias agreed it was best to let me go. James drove me into town, called the cops to make it seem like he had been the one to kidnap me. I was blameless. But you escaped?! How?!”

She had finished eating her pie, only the crust left behind. She pushed her plate away from her, replacing it with the glass of coke. “You know why you didn’t recognize James right away?” I shook my head. “The imprint makes males, excluding your mate, seem insignificant in their endeavours. For example, the guy at the counter has been staring at us this entire time. Did you know that?”

“No. How did you if males are insignificant?”

“I’m a paranoid freak that takes in every inch of my surroundings once I settle in. I keep making eye contact from my peripheral. Look at him if you want. He won’t look away.”

And so I did. He was an older man in a grey suit. Human, so that must’ve meant he was staring at us because he found us attractive. When I looked at him, he looked at me, but wouldn’t look away. I stared at him for a few moments, and he offered me a tight-lipped smile. I looked back at Simone, who hadn’t taken her eyes from me.

“There was a guy at the gas station earlier that made me feel significant, though. I don’t understand.”

“He made you feel good, Edie,” she swallowed. “That’s the difference. You will never find another man significant. You can still feel things for them. Attraction, fear, irritation, but they will never be anything important to you. That guy at the gas station addressed you directly, the man at the counter did not. That’s why you didn’t notice him.”

I swallowed the last bite of my burger. “That’s crazy. I don’t like that,” I wiped my mouth with my used napkin. “I don’t like that at all. I can never move on with another man?”

She shook her head. “You’re mated for life, unless you kill your mate. Zacharias was his name?”

I nodded. “How does that work?”

“Is he an Alpha? Nathaniel was,” I nodded again. “Ah. Then that complicates things. I probably shouldn’t say much more. I don’t want to give you ideas. I’m sorry.”

She started to slip on her coat, but I grabbed her wrist. “No, please. I won’t get any ideas. I don’t have the strength to kill him. I just...I want to know what you meant by that. Zacharias never told me anything regarding that.”

She gave a small sigh. “You promise you won’t get any ideas?” She asked, as though concerned for my safety. I wanted to hug her.

“Yes, Simone. I promise.” And it was a true promise. I knew I could never kill Zacharias. He was smarter and stronger than I was, levels higher than me in every division.

“Okay,” I let go of her, but she still proceeded to slip on her jacket. No money yet, however, so she wasn’t going to dash out on me. “So—”

The waitress came over and took our dishes, asking if we wanted refills or anything else. We both declined and she asked if we wanted our bills together or separate. Before Simone could answer, I told the waitress it was together. Simone politely disputed me, cheeks going the lightest shade of pink, before relenting. The waitress giggled as she walked away.

“You didn’t have to, really,” Simone said. “But I appreciate it a great deal. So thank you.”

“Think of it as a token of appreciation for your time, please. I don’t want you to think it’s charity.” And there was a moment of silence between us, both of us taking the other in, as if gauging one another’s true intentions. Then we both smiled, laughed air through our noses, and Simone continued talking.

“Nathaniel told me that if I killed him, I was no longer a mate. I’d always be a half-wolf, because he told me this after he marked me, but I wouldn’t be tied to him. However, he also told me that if I killed him the pack would come after me and kill me because he, like Zacharias, was an Alpha. They would always know where I was no matter how far I ran. Once you kill an alpha, the moon makes your scent rogue and strong where you can be followed even on different continents. It’s crazy. You forever have a target on your head until you die, or they kill you. He says they usually kill you before you make it far, anyway.”

“And you’re only on the run because you escaped, right? Not because you killed him?” I asked, just to make sure. She had told me she wasn’t strong, but still. She seemed nearly an expert.

“No, oh my gosh. Of course not,” she laughed. “My head would’ve been on a platter already. Nathaniel told me the grave details one time during a night of grief. It had happened to someone he was close with.”

The waitress came back and asked if I needed a debit machine, to which I said no. She smiled, handed me the receipt, thanked both of us for coming, then left. I threw a five and a hundred on the table, to which Simone’s jaw dropped. It remained dropped as I stood up and she followed suit.

She looked at me as though she was but a simple girl who had just ran into the most famous person in the country. I smiled. “It’s a long story.”

“I see,” she choked a laugh. She held out her hand for me to shake. “It was nice meeting you, Edie. I know we probably won’t ever see each other again, but I’ll never forget you.”

But I didn’t place my hand in hers. I wrapped my arms around her instead, realizing how weird it must’ve been. But I didn’t care. She hugged me back just as tightly, two strangers simply relating a story we could never relate to anyone else. This hug was one of luck and respect. An escape artist and a revenant, such an unlikely pair. She never answered my question, but I believed she was crafty enough to find a way to escape.

And before I left, I asked her to do one favour for me.

I rented a cheap hotel room for the night, bringing in the duffle bag and a bag of clothes. I had no toiletries, no hair brush or toothpaste, and I suddenly wished I would’ve taken the time to pack more necessities. I decided to simply shower my body and rinse my mouth out with a small bottle of mouthwash. I didn’t feel the cleanest afterward, but I knew tomorrow I’d make a few purchases. Tomorrow was going to kickstart the rest of my life.

I sat down on the bed, but didn’t get under the covers. It was warm inside, and the bed didn’t smell the greatest. It would do for the night, however. Beggars couldn’t be choosers.

I turned on the tv, flicking through a few channels before ending on Fox. They played a few reruns of Married with Children, which was easily my favourite sitcom ever made. I shared a few good laughs with the audience as I settled in, then started dozing off as it got late. It started to thunder outside, the occasional flash of lightning making the room white.

Just as I was about to go to sleep, the news aired on television.

They showed previews of the information that was about to be covered, before the camera showed the broadcaster, a young woman with the voice of someone who had years of experience. She introduced herself, before carrying on with the news. The way she looked at the camera made me feel like she was looking only at me. I squirmed.

“Three hours ago the police were informed by an anonymous tip that the missing officer, Officer Drayden Bower, is no longer to be treated as a missing person, but as a homicide victim. The caller claimed to not know where the body was, but knew that he was deceased. We send our condolences to the family, and urge anyone with additional information to come forward so the case can be closed. Th—”

With a smile on my face I turned off the tv, sent a silent thank you Simone’s way, and fell into a dreamless slumber.

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