The Beauty of Grey

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Chapter 34

I stepped out of the recreational centre and breathed in deeply the smell of the musty, polluted city air. It certainly wasn’t as refreshing as Marc Jacobs perfume, but it had become my constant—it had become my home. I had grown, over the course of five years, to adore the hazy city. I couldn’t deny I missed the freshness of my small town, but I wouldn’t go back. It would be too suffocating for one.

Plus, I had built a good life for myself here. I had went to university and took a four year physiotherapy course, and had been working as one for nearly ten months. I worked at the local recreational centre, aiding teenagers and young adults; some not much younger than me. It felt strange to be a little older, although I would never want to go back to my youth.

I was twenty-three, set to turn twenty-four in two months. However, it felt like it had taken forever to get there. The years seemed dull, in a sense, even though they had been packed with endless hours of papers and homework. At a certain point I was certain I was going to fail, or drop out before I failed, because the stress came to be too much.

However, it paid off. The stress was worth it, even through the all-nighters and a helluva lot of tears. I enjoyed my field of work, although I never thought it would’ve been the field I gravitated to. As a child I used to want to be a journalist, and as a teen I hadn’t outgrown that. But then I realized I didn’t have an eloquent hand.

And I had been in a vehicular accident so I knew the pain of rehabilitation. It was strange, I couldn’t help but think as I made my way to my car, how out of all of my experiences in that forest, the car accident inspired me the most. I figured it would have made more sense to become a shrink or a psychologist.

But no, somehow physiotherapy really spoke to me on a spiritual level. However, I didn’t regret it. I quite enjoyed my job, and it paid well. I was living quite well, and I felt fortunate and lucky. I owned my own home, in a quaint middle-class neighbourhood. I was never tight for money, with the leftover cash from my father and my own income. I still had a student loan to pay off, but it wasn’t enough to put me under.

I opened my car door and slid into the drivers seat. I had traded in my car a few months ago for a newer, nearly futuristic model, and sometimes I still found it tricky to maneuver it around. With all these cameras and buttons I sometimes longed for my old, straightforward car. But I supposed at some point you had to take the bait and upgrade.

Today was a good day—a splendid day. All of my clients had been patient and lovely, and the sun was shining and it was golden hour so I couldn’t complain. Today seemed just extraordinary. I couldn’t explain why. My cheeks glowed, my stomach had butterflies, and my eyes seemed brighter. Just today, though. Just today. I couldn’t explain it. As I met my eyes in the rearview mirror, I still couldn’t explain it.

I tended to park in a more secluded part of the parking lot, surrounded by few vehicles. It was easier to just get up and go, which was usually what I did. But not today. Today, I took in all of my surroundings. The golden sun, the vast field that hosted festivities during special dates, the kids riding around on their bicycles. It was almost as though I was taking the place in for the first time, like a tourist trying to take pictures with my mind. I had seen this nearly every single day, but how often had I really noticed every grave little detail?

I smiled softly to myself. The air wasn’t the cleanest, yes, but it was a cozy, modern community. I often thought it was the closest thing Canada had to New York, but maybe that was a little too presumptuous. The nicest hotel here didn’t even challenge The Plaza in Manhattan. But it was home to me.

And then it felt like I had been punched in the gut, like someone’s fist had been left behind. I couldn’t explain that, either. It took my breath away, knocked the wind right out of me; stealing it from my lungs. I hunched over the steering wheel as I attempted to inhale some air, but my body wasn’t responding. My heart began racing and I wondered briefly if I was having a heart attack. I rubbed my hand over my chest as I clenched my eyes shut.

Finally, I was able to catch my breath, but I was left feeling no less scared at the sudden attack from my body. It had never happened to me before. I had had muscle spasms and a racing heart before, but nothing like this. It left me feeling very afraid for myself for a few minutes as I looked around, making sure nobody had seen me. Nobody had.

I knew I was blanched, losing my happy glow. I felt sweat dripping down my forehead, saturating my face and making my neck feel sticky. I reached in the passenger dashboard, grabbed a napkin, wiped myself, and drove off. I knew instantly I needed to get home.

I checked my cellphone as soon as I plunked myself down on my couch, and saw that I had missed a text from my father about an hour prior to.

Want to catch dinner tonight? We’ll go to your favourite place.

It was strange being on good terms with him—well, as good as it could get, really. I didn’t hate him anymore, for starters. And that, in itself, was strange for me. I couldn’t remember a time where I loved my father at all—and still, I couldn’t say I really loved him. I was trying, I really was, but I could not. It’s true when they say you can’t force yourself to love someone, even when that someone loved you.

I could say, however, I liked who my father now was. I believed that he was, above his history, a good person. He treated me like a father should treat a daughter—with respect, tenderness and a little bit of quirkiness. I was resistant; not directly or blatantly, but I often pulled away. I couldn’t swallow the fear that this was all a front and one day he was going to divert back to his old habits. I didn’t know if my fear was healthy or not.

We hadn’t talked for three years after he dropped off the money at my old home, and in fact it was me who reached out to him. It turned out he had opened his own company and was CEO. His company was highly successful and highly integrated throughout the whole city. He had money coming out of the wazoo. And like me, he was local.

It had taken me nearly two weeks to work up the courage to call him once I found his number in the phone book. When I did manage to reach him, his assistant answered. When I told her he was my father, she didn’t believe me. It took me nearly a half an hour to convince her, and by the time I was pushed through to my father I was so frustrated I didn’t even want to thank him anymore.

But I did, and he said I could thank him over dinner after he was done for the day. It was a fair trade. We met up the posh restaurant, the one that had become my favourite and he wanted to meet at today, and he bought me dinner. We talked and talked and talked, and by the time we left to our respective vehicles I had his personal contact. He offered me a job, too, but I declined. I still wanted my privacy away from him.

And now we were trying to mend. I supposed I never realized how much I really needed my father—this version of my father. Admittedly, although I may have never admitted it aloud, I truly did need my father in my life. I found I was happier, a little more willing to step outside of the box, and a little more patient. But I would forever be my moms girl.

Yeah! Sounds like a plan. Eight bells?

I didn’t send it, yet. My finger hovered over the send button. I was brought back to the attack I had in my car. What was it? A panic attack, an anxiety attack? It didn’t make much sense. I wasn’t panicked nor anxious about anything. What if that attack happened while I was out at dinner? I envisioned my face blanching as I showered myself down in sweat. I would be humiliated. And scared.

But I felt fine, now. In fact, I once again felt better than ever. No sweat swelled in my glands and my stomach no longer ached. I reasoned that if I began to feel ill at dinner then I would retreat immediately. So I sent the text. My father responded to me right away.

See you then.

So now was time to get ready.

I found that I actually liked my hair the best when it was just above my shoulders. It had the most volume and bounce, and it was so much more manageable than when it was obnoxiously long. I also found, recently, that I liked to straighten it for special nights out like tonight. When I did this, my curls fell just in the middle of my shoulder blades. It also made my face look thinner.

I didn’t do much to my face, simply mascara and a ruby-red lipstick. The pinkness in my cheeks had come back after my shower, thankfully, so I didn’t look like I was about to hold the clammy grey hands of death.

I put on a dark plum a-line dress that had a thin, shiny white belt around the waist. It was easily my favourite dress, because it was both elegant and soft. And above it all, plum-purple was my favourite colour. It reminded me of wild flowers and a sunset in the winter.

And then I thought of dark, purple bruises.

I had a bad habit of showing up to dinners early just to sneak a glass of red wine before my father came. He was an alcoholic-turned-straight man, and I felt guilty at the thought of drinking in front of him. I wasn’t sure if he was still tempted by alcohol or not, but if he was and he relapsed, I didn’t want to be the reason behind it.

Which is why I chugged a glass before he showed up. I already knew he liked to drink a glass of Pepsi with his meal, so after I finished my glass of wine I would order an iced tea for myself and a Pepsi for him. I’d drink half of the iced tea before he arrived just to erase the smell of fermented grapes from my breath. I believed it worked since he hadn’t commented on anything yet. He never even looked at the bill, already knowing the total like the back of his hand.

I was halfway through my glass of red wine when a familiar scent hit my nose; so pungent I swore the little hairs lining my nasal cavity twitched with recognition. My lips were stuck around the rim of the wine glass as I sniffed the air, feeling chills run up and down my spine. My skin began to tingle, nerves getting the best of me as my fingers began to shake.

The scent didn’t seem to be getting any closer. My side profile was facing the door, so all I had to do was look from my peripheral. But I couldn’t; at least, not right away. I was very afraid that the person at the door was coming here with an ulterior motive. I thought back to the attack I had in my car earlier. Had my body knew this would happen before I did? This encounter was too much to be coincidence.

Then the smell began to come closer, and I was certain that my dad was going to come to a restaurant absent of me. I left my phone at home. All that would be left was a half-empty wine glass that my father wouldn’t think to associate with me. He’d think I stood him up, that I decided to just ditch the idea of dinner. He’d think I was alright, that I was fine. He’d think nothing of my absence; but he would be let down.

I chugged the rest of my wine and set the glass down. Now all that would be left was an empty wine glass that my father wouldn’t associate with me.

A hand rested on my shoulder. ”Edie—”

I placed my elbows on the table and buried my face in my hands. “Please don’t take me back,” I pleaded. I could barely hear myself over the animated, unrelenting conversations between everyone in the restaurant. “I don’t want to go back. Please, please leave me.”

I was terrified. I shouldn’t have agreed to come out tonight. I had known it was a bad idea. Now, I had been found. I was fucked. I thought my post traumatic stress was gone, but it wasn’t. I was so terrified and stiff. I couldn’t move. I wanted nothing more than to scream for help, but I couldn’t raise my voice above a loud whisper. I felt trapped in my own body, caged by my own trauma.

“Edie, please—”

“I would rather die,” I whimpered. “I would rather die than go back there with him.”

The hand that rested on my shoulder lowered to the small of my back as James took a seat beside me. He began to rub soothing circles into the fabric of my dress, but it did little to ease me. In the heat of the moment I took it as a threat, even though the pragmatic side of me knew it was not. I didn’t believe James came here just to say a friendly hello.

“No one is taking you anywhere,” he said. “Look at me, please. I don’t want you to cry. You look beautiful.”

“We’ve known each other since I was sixteen,” I said, not yet pulling my face from my hands. “We’ve known each other since I was sixteen.” I repeated.

“Yes, I know. I was doing research. You were top of the class. You were smart—are smart. I know you work as a physiotherapist, and so does the alpha,” at alpha, my face blanched again and that pain in my stomach came back. I pulled my face from my hands and looked up at him. His hair was shorter. Like me, he had cut a lot of it off. “That caught your attention.”

“Where is he?” He asked, this new knowledge forcing me beside myself. My brain went into overdrive, my nerves causing me to tremble all over. “How did you find me?”

“Feel a sharp pain?” He asked me suddenly.

Despite myself, I gave him a flat look. A cheeky smile grew on his face. Even as I felt overwhelmed, I had to prevent a smile from growing on mine. I hated how contagious his cheekiness was. “What do you mean?”

“You must’ve felt a sharp pain earlier, did you not? Outside of your work?” His eyes seemed to harden as he said this, absolute seriousness shifting the mood. “How about now? You must. You’re cringing and you’re sweating. What time is it? Seven fifty-two? Your dad won’t be here for another eight minutes, maybe even more depending on the traffic. It’s busy. You can spare a few moments, no?”

“Spare a few moments for what?” I gritted out as the pulsating pain in my stomach seemed to increase. I was so warm I felt as though I was beginning to catch a fever. The heat in the restaurant was too much, but I was afraid to leave because it would be easy to shove me into the trunk of a car and speed off. I wasn’t willing to be taken again.

“Just to talk.” His answer was too vague. He hadn’t come here alone.

“Well, we can talk in here can we not?” I challenged him sarcastically. Zacharias was nearby, I could feel it; and I could smell him from James. His scent was strong on him, recent. He was close by.

“It’s not me I’m referring to.” He said, as though it wasn’t obvious.

“Tell him to come in here. I’m not going outside. I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him, which I don’t think is that far anyway. He’s in my territory now,” I cringed from the pain in my stomach. “You can tell him to come to me.”

“Edie, you are going to faint if you don’t get some fresh air. We don’t have to go far. We can just talk in front of the restaurant. You’ll still be in the view of the public. If either one of us try anything, there’s too many witnesses. We wouldn’t get far with you.”

“How long have you known where I was?” He pulled his hand from my back.

“A month,” he answered. “We tried to reach you at your old place, but we saw you evacuated. We didn’t know where to begin looking for you. Zacharias sent me on a wild goose chase to find you. If it brings you any consolation I didn’t tell him until about a week ago. I almost didn’t tell him at all. The first time he’s seen you in five years was today.”

“You shouldn’t have told him,” I breathed. I realized my pain was literally Zacharias. “He’s not forever going to be satisfied with peace of mind.”

“Edie, if he had wanted to take you by force don’t you think he would have done it the moment he knew where your location was? He isn’t going to pull his stunt twice. You have to trust us, you have to trust him.”

We held eye contact for what seemed like forever, both of us obstinate in our stances. I looked outside, shaking from the pain in my stomach. I felt ill in more ways than one. I wasn’t willing to go outside if there was a chance I wasn’t going to be coming back inside. I knew I wouldn’t be able to survive Zacharias twice.

“I will exit the restaurant on two conditions.” I said, holding my finger in the air to enunciate my point.

“Shoot.” James said, giving me permission to lay out my ultimatum.

“One, you exit first and allow me to order drinks for myself and my father so if something bad happens, or something goes wrong and I don’t come back, he knows that I was here at one point,” he nodded in agreement. “Two, you allow me to clean myself up in the bathroom so I can brace myself for what I’m about to face next.”

“How do I know you won’t try to escape through a window?”

“Well, there isn’t a window in the girls washroom. If you don’t believe me you’re more than welcome to check.” I pointed to the bathroom.

He mimicked the flat look I gave him earlier. “Okay, you have yourself a deal. But I’m going to warn you in advance that as soon as you step out of the bathroom, we will be waiting for you outside. It may look like a setup, but it’s not.”

“Well, now you have me thinking it’s going to be a setup.”

He rolled his eyes in a playful way. We both knew I wasn’t joking, but he was pretending that I was. Whatever helped him sleep at night, I guessed. He laid a hand on my shoulder as he stood up. “It won’t be as bad as you think. I know you’re not ready, but if you’re not ready now then you’ll never be ready. This will help you move forward, I promise you that.”

“Wait,” I called out, grabbing his forearm as he turned to walk away. He looked back at me. “What did you mean by ‘research’?”

He pursed his lips. “Soul searching.”

And he slinked his way through the tables and out of the building. I watched as he turned left, up and out of sight. I swallowed and rubbed the base of my neck as I looked around the restaurant. I called out to the waiter as he walked by, asking for an iced tea and a Pepsi. He nodded as he took my empty wine glass, but gave me a suspicious look. He probably thought I was too young to be experiencing hot flashes.

I stood up and smoothed my dress as I made my way to the bathroom, feeling like my gait was forced and unsteady. Thank goodness I opted for white ballet flats. If I had been wearing even the smallest heel my ankles would’ve given out. I didn’t want to be in a heap on the floor on top of everything.

I entered the bathroom, and was thankful to find I was alone. It smelt like heavily fragranced hand-soap and Lysol, and if the feeling in my stomach hadn’t went away I might’ve vomited. Sheltered in the girls washroom, I never thought I’d find refuge in here.

I looked at the digital clock just above the sink mirror. Seven fifty-seven. My father would be here soon. Maybe I’d hang in here for five minutes, and by the time I got out my dad would be here and I could tell him to keep an eye out for me. Yeah, I’d do it that way. It seemed like it would be more foolproof.

I forced myself to use the washroom and spent the last three minutes in front of the sink. I wetted down a brown paper towel and wiped my face with it, enjoying the cool water against my feverish skin. My knees were shaky and I was peckish and thirsty and so, so scared. I hated myself for believing James when he said they weren’t here to snatch me, but that didn’t lessen the fear I felt having to face Zacharias after all these years.

He was the Michael Myers to my Laurie Strode, in a sense. Even when it seemed like he was gone and lost forever, he had a way of coming back and shadowing me. I had thought myself to be a revenant, but I knew that was more suiting for him. Had he thought the same about me? I wondered with great struggle what it would be like after not seeing him all these years.

Over the years I had numerous dreams about a potential reunion; some good, bad, romantic, dreadful. But as I stood facing myself in the mirror, I had a feeling anything I had dreamed about was not even close to how it would be tonight and I was going to get completely blindsided. I could stay in the bathroom for the rest of my life if I so wanted. I knew there was no possible way to brace myself for this, to work up the courage to be confident.

Just as I heard the bathroom door open, I was making my way to exit. The lady and I exchanged an awkward glance, and as soon as I stepped outside back into the busy dining room that sick feeling in my stomach returned. It eased for a nanosecond as I saw my father seated at the table, taking a sip of his pepsi. He smiled as he looked at me, stood up to greet me.

He kissed me on the cheek and took his seat, giving me a look of confusion when I didn’t sit down with him. I offered him a terse explanation, wine still redolent on my breath. “I have a friend outside waiting to talk to me. It’s been a while. I’ll be back in five, okay? And if I’m not, be concerned.”

He gave me a suspicious look, voice uncertain when he spoke next. “Okay, love. In case the waiter comes by, the usual?”

“You bet.” And I gave him a small wave as I made my way to the front door, able to see the object of my nightmares clearly through the display windows.

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