The Beauty of Grey

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Chapter 40

I had done normal, civilian things. Despite everything that had happened, the way I had been turned, I still functioned as a human—a full human—in my day to day life. I blended in, became invisible amongst the vast population, and droned through my existence.

I made human mistakes, established human bonds and connections, went out for dinner, attended post-secondary, owned my own home. I had even went to the bank after James had left and paid off my student loan in full. And I had taken out a student loan only because a teacher at the outreach years back told the class that even if taking out a student loan wasn’t necessary it was ideal because it boosts your credit. She wasn’t wrong.

I followed human advice, followed traffic lights like a human, ate the same food, enjoyed the same music. Life after Zacharias had become mundane, which was the way it was supposed to be. Although I stewed and dwelled over what he had done, I carried on with my life. My life didn’t end because of him, time didn’t cease for me, it continued on and on like clockwork because that’s what life is. Clockwork.

I remembered running away from my fathers place with the clothes on my back—my school sweats, hoodie, and my mums scarf—a twenty in my pocket, and a couple hundred dollars saved in my account from my part-time job. I wanted to start from scratch; from ground zero. I had fled, and I had done so with the intentions of never turning back. And I didn’t. I had gotten my own place—rented my own solace for a little while. I didn’t want to watch my life turn to shit.

I hadn’t even bothered to search for places to rent locally because I hadn’t wanted to run into my father ever again. I took busses, toured cities and towns, until I had arrived at my final destination. I hadn’t left unprepared with no sense of direction. I had planned ahead. I always had been a planner, although that doesn’t equate to me always being good at it.

I had called the landlady prior to and was thankful to hear an aged, benevolent voice on the other end of the phone. The place she was renting was already furnished, the monthly rent was relatively inexpensive even with the utilities included, and the neighbourhood was friendly without being conformist.

When I arrived in my tiny little town I inhaled the cool, saccharine air. It had been raining the night before I arrived, and the air was sticky with mist. I wandered around a bit because it was early, stopping at a cafe and ordering myself a strong coffee. I had been sixteen, so young and so unprepared. But I was so unprepared that I felt ready. I was ready to thrive.

The landlady had greeted me when I arrived at the rental, all smiles and enthusiasm. She showed me around the place and it was obvious how aged it was; which was why it was so affordable even with the job I worked. The wallpaper was weathered, the stairs screeched like a wounded animal, and the appliances were faulty at best. But it was good enough for me. It would be my home.

When I was filling out the application she asked me personal questions that although I wanted to lie my way out of I knew I could not. My hand shook as I signed my signature with the royal blue ink, the signature that hadn’t improved since third grade. I didn’t have a car, a suitcase, a phone, an official job yet. But I had a couple hundred dollars to my name.

Although she never verified I was certain I was the only one looking to rent that decrepit, aged place. It might have been the only reason I got it. And that was okay. But when she gave me the keys she told me that I could pay one-hundred fifty dollars less in rent monthly until I got myself clothes and a vehicle. I was thankful for her generosity, but I didn’t mistake the pity in her eyes for anything else. She pitied me.

But I was thankful she did. I put down my damage deposit and within three days I had gotten the job at the gas station. I worked like a dog, often working double because the other hires were unreliable at best. But they had lives—personal lives. I didn’t, really. I had left my friends behind, my education. I was trying to get on my feet.

The vehicle I bought was worth three digits, which I was thankful for because I was only looking for something to get me from point A to point B. Walking at night was a little scary because although it was a safe town it had its rowdies like every other place did. I had never been jumped nor robbed, but preventative measures were always favourable.

I remembered enrolling myself in that outreach centre not too many months later, and my boss was generous enough to let me take my homework to work as long as I didn’t ignore customers for it. I never did. I was, and am, extremely grateful for the leniency that I was granted. I considered myself, above everything, lucky. I had ran into good people.

James didn’t disrupt my life, never once trying to steer me off my course. He had been a good distraction, one of those people it was easy to crush on and approach. Him and I had gotten along right away, and although he hadn’t swept me off my feet I was smitten by him. We had done relationship things to a degree—we kissed, hugged, caught a few movies in the theatre, talked about our theories on life. We had study dates.

We never had sex.

Which was okay, I wasn’t looking for that kind of companionship. I wasn’t innocent or untouched by any means, having thrown myself at boys in school just to feel like I was beautiful and worthy of a males affection. They had all been mistakes, mistakes that I had allowed and, frankly, emboldened. James had been a breath of fresh air, which was why it was so upsetting when he left.

When school was finished I was just a few months into being seventeen. I initially had wanted to enrol in university right away, but I knew that if I attended I’d have to sacrifice shifts and if I did that then I’d lose the roof over my head. The rent was bounced back to its original price by this time, and I knew the landladies generosity only extended so far. I didn’t expect handouts. So in the meantime, I worked.

Eventually I felt like I was home, memories of my father only a thing of the past. I was on my own, solo. But I missed my mum, and I longed for her. I loved my mum, she was my best friend. When she killed herself, and my father had told me it was because I wasn’t good enough, I knew I had nothing left to live for there. And I was angry. I was angry she had ended her life. I tried to understand, but I couldn’t. I doubted I ever would. All I knew was that I missed her, and I was angry she had taken herself away from me. I knew I was being selfish, but it wasn’t as if my selfishness could bring her back.

I wondered if I ever truly forgave my father. He had belittled me my whole life, psychologically torturing me with his coldness and his manipulation. I had never felt he loved me before I ran away. I wasn’t even sure if he loved me after seeing me for the first time after all those years, after Zacharias returned me. He was kind to me, very charitable in the sum of cash he had given me, but the material things did not make up for a lack of emotional connection. I wasn’t sure my father knew how to love. I wasn’t sure if I ever forgave him for that.

He tried to be my friend, it seemed. And I’ll give credit where credit is due, my father made efforts to establish some sort of vague connection between us. But was it enough? I had tried to push back the memories of his abuse every time I faced him, and sometimes I could, but it would always resurface at some point. I’ll confess that I never fully bared my soul to him. I never wanted to expose a soft spot to him in fear he’d exploit me for it, hold it over my head and use it against me if things ever went sour again. I never allowed him to take control because if he fell back into his old patterns I wanted to be able to get out, and I wanted to be able to get out fast.

My father was intelligent, had a degree in business and such. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he ran his own business when I saw him because it was long overdue, but I was surprised that it had coincidentally been in the city I ran to. It made sense, however. The population there was growing exponentially because it was a city full of opportunity.

I attended post-secondary there, and the student loans added up to what felt like the cost of a mortgage. He had offered me a job, but I was quick to decline. I wanted to be independent, wanted to better myself by myself. I didn’t want him to help me; I didn’t feel he would be able to help me in the ways I needed him to. I liked my independence, and I was afraid by him helping me he would take that away. I liked being in control of my own life. I hadn’t been for twenty-four days prior to and it nearly drove me off the deep end.

University had lived up to the hype, and I enjoyed it. I walked out with a degree, with a handful of good friends that I was certain, had I stayed, would have been in my life for a very long time. I had clicked with the right kinds of people. I partied, got drunk, attended classes hungover, wrote exams. The whole time I felt like a scandal. I was hiding a secret. And that’s the funny thing about secrets, whenever you hide them you assume everyone is suspicious of you. Often, more often than not, they aren’t.

I hadn’t wanted to work in a hospital. I never enjoyed the hospital setting. There was something about the eggshell walls, the sterile smell, the ill people that flooded in and out, that made it a very implausible atmosphere for me. It might have been because I was afraid one day I’d turn around and run into the doctor who had treated me when I was returned and he’d tell me that I had made a mistake by eluding my blood test results. I likely had, but I could rule out the possibility of pregnancy. I didn’t want to know what they discovered. I believed I already did.

The recreation centre had been idyllic. I enjoyed working there. It was a more jovial, electric atmosphere. I worked with people of all ages in a setting that I couldn’t get sick of. I enjoyed rehabilitating people—helping people. I had never considered myself much of a people person, preferring to keep to myself, but once I got into physiotherapy I knew I hadn’t made a mistake.

I had expected maybe I’d get into a field where I’d help people that had gone through some serious emotional trauma—it’d have been more suitable and fitting, that’s for sure. But, to sound selfish again, I had my own problems that I was dealing with. And I knew that if I listened to other people’s dilemmas then I would take them home with me and blur the line between my personal life and my work life. I didn’t want a career that I had to take home. When I came home, I wanted to dedicate time to myself.

But whenever I’d come home I never felt as though I was coming...home.

A home and a house are different. A house is a structure, a physical semblance, built from a foundation on solid ground. A house is once a skeleton of thin plywood and metal beams and live wires and drywall and mud and scaffolding. A house is a place that provides shelter and heat and all the things to help a human establish some sort of...settlement.

But a home is a place where a human flourishes. A home is a place where people return to from a long day to relax and unwind with a glass of wine, or a bottle of beer, in front of a chick-flick or the evening news. A home is characterized by comfort, by the attention to detail, by the effort one takes to make it cozy. A house is a place of refuge, of solace, of tranquility.

But my home, the one that I owned, never felt like a home.

The way I had evacuated my rental was tasteless at best. I stayed there for a night and was driven mad, and I knew I could not stay there another day. I felt guilty that I had just left abruptly, and I was certain the landlady didn’t appreciate it either despite the cash I had given her as my way of saying thanks for everything.

But it felt like a home.

My home never felt like a home. I owned it, decorated it according to my taste, had friends over and laughed about ridiculous stories relived time and time again. It had all the criteria to be considered a home, but it never felt like one. It had felt like a shell to me, just a place to...settle. It never brought me refuge, nor solace, nor tranquility. And I tried so hard just to like it, to convince myself that it was where I’d spend the rest of my life. That I’d grow to like it eventually. I never did.

I blamed Zacharias for that. I couldn’t be alone with my thoughts without him criss-crossing my mind, pacing back and forth whenever he so chose to. It was because of him I only settled and never...prospered in my environment. And it wasn’t even because I was afraid to get comfortable out of fear he’d come back. It was because it felt unusual and unnatural to not have him there. Without him I felt like something was missing.

And I hated that—and I hated him for it. He wasn’t a good man. He wasn’t unlike my father in the way he treated me. I recognized that Zacharias was abusive, which served to further fragment my mind because I tried to battle against the fact that I missed him, but ultimately I lost. And it was sick, a vicious circle of torment. I missed the man that abused me. I didn’t want to romanticize it, but it was true. I missed him. It feels as good as it hurts to admit it.

I had perpetrated my own violence, and I wasn’t oblivious to that. But he had kidnapped me—taken me against my will. I never wanted to be with him; not until the bitter, bitter end which was challenging for him to understand because he had always wanted to be with me. I would never want to start a relationship, a companionship, with him. He didn’t mean nothing to me, he did mean something, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough for me to absolve him of his actions of the past.

I didn’t blame him for my actions. Only I was in control of the way I acted, and I had only acted in a way I thought was according to the situation. I had never wanted to be in the situation, and as soon as I was in I wanted out. And I fought tooth and nail to get out, but it was clear I hadn’t fought hard enough. We had committed violent, savage crimes on one another. But I would never capitulate to him. Not again, at least.

I never wanted to be with him. And I made sure he had known that. But he didn’t care. So I fought. I cannot enunciate that enough. He was not the victim.

Call me vile if you must, hate me for my actions if it best serves you, but when I wanted out he only locked me in. If I could’ve called the cops or just walked out, I would have. I never would have reacted the way I did.

That’s why it was so hard for me to comprehend why he was so quick and decisive when it came to letting me go. He had made efforts to ensure I would never escape, only to suddenly have a change of heart and release me. What had I fought for? My fight had been fruitless. He controlled when I stayed and when I left. The moment I surrendered to him, accepted him, he let me go. To put it into less than five words: he fucked me up.

And I hated the way that when he pulled up in front of his cabin, it felt like home.

Everything flooded back all at once as soon as we pulled in front of the cabin. It was like being exposed to a phobia, or something that had traumatized you once, in order for you to heal and move past from it. It was hard being there, and although I tried to hide my trembles I could not. I started shaking like a leaf, my nerves getting the best of me.

Zacharias didn’t reach over to touch me and instead dropped something soft onto my lap. I jerked as though it was something heavy with claws, but when I looked down I recognized what exactly the soft object was. I instantly was able to place the scarlet colour. It was my mums scarf, the one that had been tied around my eyes when James returned me to my home.

“It was left at the hospital. My Beta had gotten it back from someone. I thought maybe you’d like to have it.”

My fingers, shaky, latched onto the fabric. I wondered how James had managed to retrieve it, but I supposed it didn’t matter. I had completely forgotten about it at the time but sometimes when I’d scour my wardrobe I’d wonder where it was, thinking I had just misplaced it. I felt guilty for brushing off something so sentimental as misplaced when it was missing.

“Thank you.” I said to him, my voice quavering.

We were parked in front of the cabin, and it was dark. The headlights and tail lights were shut off, so we sat in the pitch-blackness. It wasn’t midnight yet, just shy of it by forty-five minutes. I knew that Zacharias had to run at midnight, I remembered him having to do that the first full moon after he had imprinted me, so that meant I’d have to be alone in his cabin. I wasn’t fond of the idea.

“You don’t seem too pleased to be back, Edie.” Zacharias said to me.

My fingers, the more nervous I got, vigorously knitted the fabric of the scarlet scarf. It almost felt as though I could feel my mum herself through the fabric, as though I could gather whatever strength she might have had at one point and take it for myself. I would need strength for this place. I felt strong on the way here, staring through the window at the smeared coniferous trees. But to actually be here, presently, leached my strength from me. I felt vulnerable, again. And I felt weak.

“Are you happy staying here?” I asked him, looking over at him. He had already been staring at me. I knew he had been, but that intensity was back. He was trying to read me, but I was full of blank pages.

“The place feels too big for one after having two,” he admitted honestly, a boyishness to his voice. “I’ve missed you, Edie. It’s been empty without you. I’ve been empty without you.”

The silver section in his eye glimmered in the moonlight. He was calm. I was calm. “Everything has changed, Zacharias. Everything is changing.”

He ignored what I said, which I’ll confess I was grateful for. I didn’t want him to question what I meant. I wasn’t even sure I knew myself. “Did you feel empty without me?”

I swallowed, jutting my chin in an unintentional display of pride as I faced straight ahead again. “I feel empty now. Everything that I worked for I’ve worked for fruitlessly. I never thought I’d be back here. And it’s my own choice, and I know it’s the right one, but everything has changed.”

“Is it me that makes you feel empty?”

I smiled to myself, looking down at the scarf I was kneading between my fingers. I exhaled air through my nose. “You’ve never made me feel empty, Zacharias. You’ve always made me feel too full.”

“I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you, Edie,” he said, and I felt his hand on my thigh. I didn’t lift my head, nor discontinue kneading the fabric, but my eyes glanced over to his hand on my leg. It felt so...right to have it there. So warm, so callous. I hated that I still enjoyed his touch. I liked his touch, but everything else about him repulsed me. “I know that you hate me, but I’m hoping I can change that. I want you to love me.”

I looked back up at him, my smile dropping. Meeting Zacharias’ eyes, I once again relived everything. Escaping through the window, being run-down by the wolves, him shifting for the first time in front of me, him forcing me to bathe him, him fisting my hair as he forced his lips over mine in the hallway, him scraping my little razor blade down my face, t-boning me after I stole his truck, tying me to the bed, killing the officer, handcuffing me as he marked me, getting rid of me once he decided he was probably unhealthy for me.

James had encouraged the decision, and I knew that, but ultimately it had been up to Zacharias. If Zacharias had wanted to keep me there, despite the protests of James, he would have.

“I know you do.” I said to him.

Then I leaned over and kissed him.

Being inside made me feel worse. It felt like I was in the belly of the beast.

Zacharias had taken my suitcase up into the bedroom he once held me captive in and I stood awkwardly in front of the door, taking in my surroundings. I had put my mums scarf in my suitcase so I had to resort to wringing my hands in front of me. My stomach was doing somersaults and my heart was racing. I was clammy all over, on the constant verge of tears. I was chewing on my lip to prevent it from wobbling because if it began to wobble I was done for.

Zacharias came down the stairs, and although I expected him to look triumphant in having me back he proved me wrong. He looked humbled. He didn’t walk with that air of arrogance. I was thankful. If he approached me the way he used to, I’d likely break down once again. Being here made me feel like I was once again the submissive instead of the one in control. It was his territory, not mine.

But I had not made a mistake. I had not.

“I think you owe me something, Edie.” He said, stopping as his foot left the final step.

I quirked a brow, wringing my hands faster. Instantly I became defensive, expecting him to tell me something vulgar or foul. “What do I owe you?”

A small smile, one that made him seem almost bashful. I didn’t expect him to say what he did next.

“A dance.”

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