The Beauty of Grey

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Chapter 39

“I need you to leave.” I said.

He buried his face in his hands, fingers etching at his temples as he dropped his chin to his chest. I didn’t know if he was acting like he hadn’t heard me, or if he actually hadn’t heard me, but either way I no longer wanted him in my home. I hated seeing him vulnerable. I never considered myself as someone who was afraid of emotions, but I didn’t have the strength to deal with his.

Zacharias was the kind of person—well, creature—who had brief, fleeting lapses of weakness but usually managed to recover from them quickly. I hated seeing his brief moments of weakness because instead of becoming stronger in order to make up for his lack of, I seemed to adopt his defencelessness. His fragility would rub off onto me.

I remembered that day he had completely demolished the pack-house, strewing generations of exquisite portraits across the floor after tearing them in a crime of passion. I remembered how I felt so weak to him, seeing him broken and upset, and in a moment of impulse—that lasted longer than an impulse—I had apologized for everything I thought I had done wrong.

It felt so effortless at the time, like I was spilling an apology that had been long overdue. But it was not overdue; it had never been due at all. He had kidnapped me, detained me against my will, tried to force me to care for him through maniacal, abusive ways. I had, in a sense, apologized for fighting against him and trying to obtain my freedom. I had apologized for resisting his abuse.

It took me a while to realize that. During those all-nighters during university I thought long and hard, coming to terms with the damage done, wondering if I’d ever be able to recover. And although I had mended myself over the years there were still cracks and chips of uncertainty that had yet to be sealed.

With Zacharias in front of me I had the urge to apologize for things I didn’t need to apologize for. Like moving on from him; establishing a cozy, quaint life; allotting time to myself so I could heal. But, above all, I wanted to apologize for not being upset that I couldn’t have children simply because I knew he wanted to.

Again, as conflict splintered my mind, I repeated: “I need you to leave.”

“I—I can’t,” Zacharias cried. “I need you. I need you right now.”

It almost felt like trying to kick out a one-night stand who was clingy and refused to leave. But Zacharias was more to me than that. I couldn’t deny that for a second. But I...I meant more to myself than Zacharias.

“And I need you to leave,” I licked my lips. “We can talk later when you pick me up. But now isn’t good.”

“But why isn’t it good, Edie? You’re being selfish,” he said as he pulled his face from his hands. It was humbling to see his tear-streaked face, the pain that morphed his expression resembling the pain that had once morphed mine. “I need you—”

“I don’t care!” I snapped at him. A moment of guilt caused me to sigh as I shut my eyes, running a hand through my hair. As my way of apology I took his hand in mine, giving it a gentle squeeze. “I didn’t mean that. I do care. That’s why I need you to leave.”

Tears fell, leaving glossy stains on his pink cheeks. The tip of his nose was swollen and red, like it had been exposed to a winter chill. He seemed so...childlike. The way he looked at me, however, was not childlike. “That doesn’t make sense, Edie.” He breathed uncertainly.

I couldn’t hide my smile after he said that. “I know. But I need you to leave because seeing you this upset makes me believe that the hurt you feel is my own doing. It isn’t. You did this to yourself. This is on you.” Selfishly I added the last three sentences to remind both him and myself who had caused this.

“Edie, I realize that. I’m not forgetting that. I’m not trying to make you feel like this is your fault,” angrily he wiped his tears away just as more fell. He rolled his eyes, which seemed to shift from emerald to sea-green in the event of his sadness. “I just feel so much guilt.”

“You shouldn’t. I’ve never wanted kids. Look at me,” I told him, and he did. It was forced, however. I could tell he was struggling with the fact he was letting me see him like this. “I used to think of myself as someone as pampered because I ran away from home and got lucky because a landlord pitied me. But that’s not the point. The point is I liked being alone, even throughout university. I never once felt a maternal instinct that whispered give me babies,” he laughed a little at this. “I’m not angry at you for taking away my ability to have kids. I have a lot of other things to be angry at you for in the meantime.”

He sniffled, looking at me like a wounded animal. I offered him a tremulous smile before scooting forward, removing my hand from his. I reached out and swiped the tears from underneath his eyes with the pads of my thumbs before I took his cheeks in mine. Slowly I pulled him down to my level and gave him a small peck on the lips, displaying my forgiveness in a skin-on-skin way.

Zacharias tried to deepen the kiss instantly, wanting to claim my lips as his own, but shyly I pulled away. Before I could stop what I was going to do next I removed a hand from him and caressed my cheek against his, closing my eyes at the feeling of his stubble.

“Now it’s time for you to go.” I said as I pulled away, removing my hands from his face and hugging my legs.

He gave me a small nod, one of mutual understanding, before he stood up off of my bed. He inhaled, smoothing his shirt over his lean abdomen. He looked down at me, his face still chapped and rosy. “I’ll be here at seven,” a pause, a moment of consideration for his next words. “I love you.”

I awkwardly rubbed my shins through the bedding. He pursed his lips as he stared at me, and couldn’t resist touching me one final time before he had to go. He smoothed my hair against the side of my face, the pad of his pinkie finger tracing over my chin longingly. I didn’t break eye contact as he did this. I wanted to memorize the glint of sincerity and deep, deep remorse.

And then he left the room as though he couldn’t wait to get away from me. I was thankful, however, because I couldn’t wait for him to get away from me. I had fallen weak again but made up for it with my words. My physical actions were controlled by the pacemaker in my chest, but my words were controlled by the rational side of my mind. I needed Zacharias to know that just because I didn’t resent him for taking away my right to children, I resented him for everything he had done to me prior to.

But the remorseful sincerity in his eyes would almost take that resentment away. However, I would never let him know this. I didn’t want him to think he was absolved for his actions in the past. He wasn’t. They had left scars that wouldn’t die unless they died with me. In less than a month he had caused irreparable damage that followed me around like my shadow.

That was unforgivable.

Detective Roth picked up on the third ring.

“Hello?” He answered, his voice still the same. It had no reason to change, I supposed, but after a couple years everything begins to feel different or altered in some way. But not Roth’s voice.

“Hi, Detective Roth. It’s Edie, the woman whose home you broke into.” I joked jovially so he didn’t think I was upset. I wasn’t. In any other predicament I might’ve made the attempt to call on the swat team, but Roth would soon be a distant memory.

“Edie, hi!” He sounded excited, like I could give him a lead. “Hi. How are you? It’s been a while. It’s good to hear from you. It’s good to hear your voice.”

I chuckled. “I’ve been good. I’m a physiotherapist now, believe or not. I own my own home,” I licked my lips, brushing my wet hair behind my ears. I had just showered and settled down with a cup of coffee. “How have you been?”

“I’m good. I have a wife. She’s pregnant. Twins. It was triplets but one of the fetuses got absorbed.”

“Oh, rough. It sounds like your life is becoming really full. I’m surprised you can find the time to stalk me and leave your phone number on my pillow. Impressive, really. How do you manage to balance your time?” I asked, sipping my coffee. For my own humour I elevated my pinkie in the air as I did so.

There was such a long pause I was almost positive I had missed the click and he had hung up. However, timidly almost, he answered: “you knew about that?”

Deciding to fuck with him a little I asked, “the stalking or the pillow?”

I could almost envision him rolling his bright blue eyes. “You know.”

“I do know. You’re not very discreet. My only question is why? Why am I such a person of interest? You have a wife and soon-to-be twins but you find it important enough to drive out to me, who is six hours away, and investigate a case that I’m sure has been considered cold by now? Detective Roth, quit while you’re ahead.”

“But that’s where you’re wrong. It’s not cold, it’s heating up again.” He argued with finality.

“To who?”

“To me—” a sigh. I smirked as I sipped my coffee. “I’m not the only one who has been stalking you, Edie. I think I’ve found the guy who kidnapped you. He’s been following you around in his vehicle for about a month. It looks like he’s gonna’ pull something.”

I knew who was talking about. But still, I had to make sure. “Can you describe him to me?”

“Tall, Aboriginal. Lean, muscular. His hair is cropped short. He’s not a bad looking guy. And it seems he fit the description you gave me. He just doesn’t give me good vibes.” Beta James. I had known it was, but I wanted to make sure he hadn’t been lying to me about only knowing my whereabouts for a month.

“Did you, perchance, get a good look at his eyes?”

“In pictures they look brown.”

“Then he is not the guy.”

“What?” He sounded flabbergasted, insulted at the sheer possibility of him being misled. “What makes you so certain?”

“Because the guy had green eyes, Detective.”

“But you said yourself he kept you in a room. Was the room dark? If it was dark you might not have been able to guess the correct eye colour. You can’t tell me I’ve gotten the wrong guy. He’s been following you for a month. I’m afraid he’s going to attack you again.”

“There’s nothing to be afraid of. Speaking of being afraid though,” another sip of coffee, the sudden resurgence of an unreturned call. “Did you ever hear about my blood-test results?”

“What? No? Stop trying to change the subject, Edie,” he was frustrated that I had poked holes in his theory. All this time wasted for nothing...for the wrong guy. “I can’t be wrong about this. I feel it in my gut, Edie. This is the guy. He’s going to attack you again—”

“You’re wrong, Detective Roth. I’m sorry. I know the guy you’re talking about. It’s not him,” I licked my lips. “Why do you have such an invested interest in my case, anyway? Do you become this involved in all your cases?”

Another long pause. “I’ve never had to deal with someone who looked so...lost. You looked like you didn’t even know where to begin after living in what felt like the end for so long. I felt bad for you. And I want to get you justice. I want to help you catch the guy who made you look lost.”

He cared.

I struggled to find words right away, instantly feeling guilt for how abrupt and combative I had been with him in the past. I also, inevitably, felt culpable for being dishonest. But if I told him the truth he would never believe me.

“Edie—”

“I’m still here. I’m sorry,” I took a deep breath. “You don’t have to worry about catching the guy, Roth. I’ve already made my peace. Thank you, though, for everything. Truly. You’ve done more than you needed to.”

A knock on the door pulled me from the conversation. My heartbeat picked up as I sniffed the air, expecting to sniff Roth who was holding the conversation from the other end of my front door; or even Zacharias who was just too smitten to say goodbye until seven. There was only eight hours left.

But instead I got a whiff of Beta James.

Instantly, without thinking, I scurried over to my front door. Roth was talking still, something along the lines of: I’m sure that’s the guy, he has to be. I don’t like the way he watches you. But I wasn’t wholly listening, my vision tunnelled as I opened the door and greeted James.

“Your suspect is here,” I said calmly into the phone. “I can assure you he’s not guilty of anything. I’m going to hang up now. Again I want to thank you for your effort, but I think it’s in your best interest to focus on your growing family. My best regards to you and your wife. Goodbye, Roth.”

And then I hung up, knowing I would never speak to Roth again. I threw my phone onto my coffee table before looking back to James. “Hi, stranger.” He greeted.

“Come in,” I said, swallowing as I stepped out of the way to allow him inside, closing and locking the door behind him. “Don’t worry about your shoes.”

“It’s disrespectful to not remove your footwear in someone’s home,” He said, removing his shoes as I reclaimed my spot on the couch. I pulled my knees to my chest, nursing my cup of coffee as I looked at him. He started walking into my living room, sitting on the love seat adjacent to my couch. He was so big it seemed the couch had to fold to accommodate him. “I think we need to talk.”

“You know, I can’t remember the last time I had a normal conversation with you or Zacharias. Everything seems like a confrontation. We’re all so full of angst, like a bunch of teens.” I joked, only because I didn’t know if I wanted to hear what he had to say. I didn’t know if I wanted to hear the truth.

“Confrontations stem from loose ends,” he said. “I want to talk about our history.”

“Zacharias filled me in. His father killed your mate because she mocked him,” I didn’t mean to come across so bluntly, and I cringed as I tried to soften the blow with what I said next. I failed. “I look like her, is what he said.”

“You do, Edie, you do,” he breathed as he ran a hand down his face, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. “The moment I saw you I just...you look just like her. You could be her doppelgänger.”

“But I’m not her.” I whispered softly, taking a sip of coffee. I looked at him sympathetically, furrowing my brows in a display of apology.

“You remind me of her, but only because of one common trait you share with her: fearlessness. Even when you feel fear you are fearless. It is admirable, but also your most grievous fault. It was hers, too. It’s what got her killed.”

“She called Zacharias’ father crazy,” I blurted, cleared my throat. “Despite being fearless...what would possess her to do that?”

“She hated everything that family stood for, and she hated Zacharias. She thought he was petty, too full of testosterone to rule adequately. She blamed his father for sending him to a camp instead of training him himself through the years, all the ins and outs and tricks of the trade. Every pack is run differently. The camp teaches one way only, which works for many but not all,” he took a deep breath, looking to the ground as he dropped his head. “She called his father out on his shit since no one else was willing to do it. She said what everyone else was afraid to. And Zacharias’ father simply could not handle the truth.”

“It seems to be a common trait in that bloodline, not being able to handle the truth. Speaking of which, I’m sorry I didn’t ask before but would you like a coffee? I didn’t even think to mention it.”

“No, thank you. I’m good,” he dismissed. “But I’m afraid you’re going to do something as drastic as her and get yourself killed.”

I looked at him for a moment before shaking my head slowly. “I wouldn’t put myself in a compromising predicament if I didn’t think it was for a good cause.”

“Did you love me when we were seeing each other?” He asked me suddenly. I nearly spilt my coffee all over my lap, caught off guard by the inquiry.

“I—I beg your pardon?”

“Did you ever develop feelings for me? We were seeing each other for a little while,” he swallowed, seeming to become nervous. “Did you feel any...sparks with me?”

I fuzzily remembered the time we had spent together. The way we kissed and held hands. But never did we engage in any venereal acts with each other, that line of intimacy never to be crossed. I understood why, no longer humouring the curiosity from before.

“Well, I’m sure I felt a lot for you. I know I cared about you.”

“But did you ever love me?”

Feeling a bit defensive I asked, “well did you ever love me?”

A short pause, a shake of his head. His brown eyes looked through me sadly. Werewolves were so sappy, throwing around the L-bomb like it was a sentence enhancer. I didn’t think it should be used so casually and bindingly in speaking. It seemed to diminish the meaning.

“No, I never loved you,” he said bluntly. “Don’t take it personally. After a mate dies the living mate can never love another. When your mate dies, your love dies with them. I cared about you too, Edie, but eventually seeing you became too painful. I created this whole alternate identity just to see you and be around you, just to find out that I courted the woman who belongs to my superior. Still, after all this time, I care about you.”

“I look at you as a friend, James. You understood my anger when I was in that cabin five years ago and you allowed me to be angry. You convinced Zacharias to let me be free and return me to my home. The only reason I am where I am right now is because you helped me get here. If you hadn’t gotten me out of that cabin when you did I might never have left. I developed a certain kind of stockholm syndrome for that place.”

“I must confess I never understood why you were so angry that he let you go when that was what you wanted all along.” He commented.

I frowned, downing the rest of my coffee before setting the cup on the table. “The only way I can describe it is that it felt like more of a loss than a victory. My thinking was just...warped. On one hand, the imprinted hand, I wanted to settle down with him and accept the lifestyle he was going to offer me. On the other hand, my own hand, I had fought so hard against him only for him to...dismiss me. I was angry because I left on his terms instead of my own. After all the damage he had done it was just so easy for him to toss me away and wipe his hands clean of me. It was degrading.”

“Zacharias is going back to the hotel but he says he’s coming back for you.” he said this accusingly.

All I could focus on was the fact Zacharias had lied about having to do things. He didn’t. He was just sitting and waiting until seven. Did I make him that nervous that he felt he needed to brew up false excuses to not stay around me? If so, good.

“Why is he coming back for you?” James had been waiting to confront me with this.

I gave him a tremulous, faltering smile. I was struck by a wave of shame that passed as quickly as it came. “Because like I said I have a certain kind of stockholm syndrome for that place.” That cabin.

“You’re not—” he looked at me with wide coal-black eyes. I nodded. “Edie, no. It’s a terrible decision, do you realize that? You shouldn’t be coming back.”

I nodded again. “I do realize that, but it’s my decision.”

“What on earth made you come to that decision?” He was becoming exasperated. “You never return to the house of horrors that you escaped from. The Edie I knew then wouldn’t have made that decision, so why are you making it now?”

“Because this Edie is stronger. This Edie has a few more bridges to burn. This Edie has a plan in mind. I’m doing this not for anyone else but myself. You don’t understand, and I get that. Zacharias doesn’t either. But please understand that it is simply something that needs to be done.”

“You have the same glint that you had the first time I saw you,” he said softly. “I remember you were holding your textbooks, and the way your eyes looked as you clutched them to your chest...they were so full of determination. It was like you just knew you were going to do something impactful.

“When I heard you speak to me through the door right away I knew who you were. Whenever Zacharias talked about you I humoured the idea but never really put two and two together. Then when I saw you for the first time after all that time, and you didn’t remember me, I knew Zacharias had fully claimed you for himself. I wasn’t jealous, but I felt sorry for you. You had such a lost, tired look in your eyes. Your foundation had just crumbled beneath you.

“And it’s scary seeing that look of determination in your eyes again because it reminds me of the look in my mates eyes, the same look she probably had when she was murdered. I know that you’re going to something irreversible, and I know that nothing will stop you from doing it. The question is, Edie, what do you intend to do? At least give me that closure. After I leave your home I have the feeling I’ll never see you again.”

“What makes you think that?”

Another parallel between him and detective Roth. They both were firm believers in gut instincts.

“It’s a gut instinct.”

I gave him a small smile, resting my elbow on the arm of the couch and laying my cheek in my palm. “Instinct is premonition, not fact,” I told him, which caused him to look at me in a suspicious way. “But if you feel like you’ll never see me again after you leave my home can you at least do me one last favour?”

He looked at me for a few lingering moments, reluctancy stonewalling his expression. The way he looked at me was blank enough to invoke my nerves, my breath catching in my throat. If he denied me of this one favour it would complicate the way things needed to end.

Then acceptance humbled his features, giving me a nod as he came to peace with my plea. “Of course, Edie.”

So then I asked him and he agreed. Casual conversation, after, became effortless.

At six fifty-five PM I called my father and said goodbye, telling him the remainder of his money was stashed in my closet.

My bag was ready and packed as Zacharias pulled up in front of my house at seven pm sharp.

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