“A dance?” I asked him, incredulous that he still remembered. However, it might’ve been stranger if he hadn’t. It had been a day to remember.
I remembered the pretty white dress he had bought me, how it had hid the boxers that I shoved the needle into. I remembered the way he told me to clean up his mess, the way he soon pulled me away, the way I tried to seduce him, the way I injected him with adrenaline which served to null the effects of getting smashed in the head with the cast iron frying pan.
I remembered the way I had scurried for the keys and successfully gotten into his vehicle and drove off, certain that I was going to find freedom no matter which direction I travelled. I remembered the way he t-boned the vehicle, the way I rolled and rolled, the way he pulled glass from my perforated back in the same manner he had pulled me from the capsized vehicle. I remembered him blowing up his own vehicle to erase any evidence that I had once been in it, nearly liberated.
I remembered him bringing me back to his cabin, that distinct feeling of loss and frustration and...devastation.
I pursed my lips as I looked up at him. Vainly I felt inadequate in my appearance. I was wearing a grey sweatshirt and boyfriend jeans, something unsuitable for dancing even though it was only him and I in the shelter of his cabin; not him and I in the exposure of a ballroom surrounded by extravagant, wealthy people.
“I’m not much of a dancer.” I told him, which was also true. I had two left feet and an unstable sense of balance. I wasn’t much good at following another persons lead, either, my mind automatically wanting to do the opposite of what was correct.
Ironically, it seemed, he said: “you don’t have to be good. Just follow my lead.”
Trying to delay I asked, “so you’re good at dancing?”
He shrugged modestly, cheekily. I already knew I wouldn’t get much of an explanation—something vague at best. “I’ve danced a time or two before.”
Jealousy blossomed within my cheeks. I hated that I got jealous at the thought of him dancing with another woman. There was no reason for it; I didn’t look at him as mine, even with the bond we shared.
“You don’t want to dance with me.” I told him, slowly shaking my head. I wanted to walk away, and suddenly the overwhelming feeling of homesickness washed over me like cold water. I didn’t want to walk further into his place. My place had never felt like home, but I had the comfort to do what I wanted when I wanted.
He quirked a brow, smirking at me. “You’re nervous.” He stated.
I nodded. There was no sense in denying it. He could tell. “Yes.”
“I’m not going to make fun of you, Edie, you know that.”
He started to approach me and instantly I wanted to melt into the floor. By impulse I took a step back, one foot bracing myself as I pinned my body to the door. My hands found the walls as I sturdied myself, and only then did I realize how afraid of Zacharias I truly was still. My mind, by default, had instantly began to scour ways in which I could escape in record time; or how to throw Zacharias off course if need be. I realized I still viewed him the same way I had four years ago. Maybe saying that everything had changed was a lie.
Nothing had changed.
He still continued to approach me, but slower, like a cautious civilian approaching a spooked stray. I didn’t miss the way insult initially marred his smooth features, but he hid it quickly in an effort to score my trust. I knew I didn’t have a reason to act this way because he wasn’t conveying a threat, but he had traumatized me. I was allowed to feel skittish.
When he was a few feet away he held out his large hand to me, like he was extending an olive branch, and my eyes ran over the jagged, twisted valleys on his palms. I wasn’t a palm-reader by any means, but even the appearance of his hands could lead one to believe he was disorderly and erratic. But maybe I was reading too much into his hand, pressing labels onto him that I should’ve been pressing onto myself.
I looked up at him briefly, tiredly, before slowly outreaching my hand. Slowly I placed my hand into his, taken back to our moment earlier in my bedroom, before envisioning what was to take place in the future. I owed him this, I felt. It was the least I could do.
He offered me a small smile before he started pulling me into another room. I followed behind him, the path in which he was escorting me blocked by his broad figure until he released my hand and stepped away. He had taken me into what I assumed to be his living room. A charcoal grey sectional couch was tucked into the corner of the room, two stained-wood end-tables adjourning each side. There was no entertainment stand, nor a television or coffee table. There were two windows—one on the far wall and one above the couch—that allowed the moonlight to sift in, along with a few sunset-landscape portraits likely painted and gifted years ago. But it didn’t seem personal. It looked like an aesthetic setup at a show-home, somewhat inspirational but emotionless.
On one of the end-tables was a record player and I couldn’t help but briefly wonder what era we were living in. Zacharias stepped over to it, opened up the drawer, and with delicate care pulled out a record. I couldn’t help but watch, awestruck, as he removed the record from its sleeve and set it on the player. Slowly, effectively with drama, he set the headshell onto the record. Music began to play.
It was classical music that I, surprisingly, recognized. Prelude No. 15 in D-flat major, Op. 28 by Frédéric Chopin. Or, as more commonly known, ′Raindrop’ Prelude. It was a magnificent piece, one I enjoyed even more than Beethoven’s Fur Elise.
The soft, slow melody of the weeping piano served to humble my buzzing nerves as Zacharias approached me. This time I did not shy away, awaiting for him to reach me. With the splendid, melancholy music I felt less afraid of making a fool of myself. It didn’t explain why my heart was hammering against my ribcage, however.
His hand grabbed mine as he directed it onto his bicep, likely to accommodate my height. He used the same hand and rested it on my waist, fingers feeling me through my clothing, before slowly garnering it to the small of my back. He used this to press us closer together before grabbing my free hand with his free hand. He elevated our unionized hands in the air, and I took a deep breath as I stared at our shoe-clad feet.
The piano set the mood, and wordlessly Zacharias began to move his feet. I didn’t move initially, stalling, before I started to follow in his footsteps. I was tempted to just step on his feet and learn that way, but figured it was better to suffer through a good thing as opposed to ruin it.
The living room was spacious, idyllically, because Zacharias liked to move around. He moved slowly, fluidly with ease, obliging my clumsiness. I truly was a dreadful dancer, constantly stepping on his toes, bumping into him as I stumbled. I was thankful I wasn’t wearing a long gown or I’d have tumbled to the floor by now.
I concentrated on his feet, trying to establish a pattern, but my mind could not comprehend the way his feet moved; suddenly dyslexic with spattered unclarity. The music was beginning to darken, the sound of the piano lowering and quickening with suspense, and Zacharias slowed down further in an effort to allow me to catch up. I could feel him staring down at me, likely with humour or pity, but I couldn’t have cared. I just wanted to learn.
"Slowly.” He finally spoke.
I tried to slow myself. He was swaying gently, gracefully, like a willow in the wind. I was, unflatteringly, jerking back and forth like a nutcracker come to life. I admired how he, someone so bulky and burly, could move with such...elegance. I’d never perfect my dancing tonight. But maybe it wasn’t meant to be perfect. It was just meant to be done.
The music continuously picked up, quickening, and by default I wanted to pick up my speed too. Zacharias’ pace, however, never faltered. Try as I might, I couldn’t mimic his footfalls even though they were far from complicated. I moved rigidly, stiffly, still. My hand became loose in his as I focused all my attention onto his feet, my hand on his bicep slowly falling.
The music hit its crescendo, its highest point, before slowing down as it reached the end. I furrowed my brows, knotting my lips. Zacharias was patient with me as I tried desperately to master his footing as the final few notes were played on the piano. But I had failed, and as the music sputtered to a stop I was ready to admit defeat and pull away.
But Zacharias’ hand on my back did not alleviate. “We still have time.” He said.
He had danced us over to the record and once again the beginning of Raindrop Prelude began to dazzle the room. “I’m sorry.” I apologized lowly, still watching his feet as he began to dance us away.
“Look up at me,” he said, and I hesitated. Eye contact would be too stifling, too suffocating. Briefly he pulled his hand from mine and cupped it under my chin, tilting it up so I would look at him, before once again lacing his hand with mine. “Focus on me.”
“You’re too...intense.” I told him, but maybe I found it hard to maintain eye contact because of my own guilt.
“What would make me seem...” a quirked brow. “Less intense?” He inquired.
I gave him a forlorn look. “Nothing.”
“Maybe we should talk.”
“Doesn’t that kill the mood?”
“I don’t care about the mood,” he said, pulling me a little closer, eliminating the small gap between us. “I just want to hold you.”
Uncharacteristically rendered speechless, I nodded. “O-okay.”
“What was it like when you returned home, Edie?”
“That’s what you want to talk about?” The music darkened again, fittingly.
“I’ll go first,” he smiled. His hand squeezed mine, tightening. It wasn’t painful, just possessive. “After you left, Edie, it was empty here. I had lived alone for so long, so when I lived alone again I became embalmed in my own isolation. It didn’t matter that you hadn’t stayed long, or that we fought the way we did, I missed you. I knew I loved you. Regardless of what conspired between us, I loved you. I love you. I’d rather live miserable with you than miserable without you.”
“You were afraid you were going to kill me,” I said. “That’s why you sent me away.”
“I would’ve done everything to keep you here, Edie. When you asked me if it ever occurred to me that I could’ve killed you the night I struck you with another vehicle, I told you I knew I wouldn’t have. I lied, Edie. It hadn’t occurred to me. And it scared me. The thought of losing you by my own hands scared me,” he swallowed, his eyes darkened to pine. “But now that I have you here again...I can’t let you go twice. You know that.”
“The day you let me go...it’s funny,” I gave a sickened smile. “I called for you a dozen times when I came downstairs, then proceeded to panic and fear starving to death or something like I couldn’t have just...left. You had changed the passcode to get out, but I didn’t know that. I was just...messed up. The way in which you had left was sudden and I feared you wouldn’t come back—”
My throat cracked. I blinked back tears. I didn’t continue speaking until I was certain I could do so without crying. The music hit its peak again.
“—and I would have never left.”
He didn’t say anything. There was nothing that could’ve been said in response.
“When I got home everything was the same, but nothing felt the same. I could smell you all over the place, where you had wandered. My home felt tainted, like it was no longer mine anymore. My food was expired, everything was dusty, and my phone was still on the table. Why didn’t they take it? Even if it wasn’t suspected that I was kidnapped, wouldn’t they have at least taken it? And it was still charged, too. Nothing made sense to me. Everything felt so impersonal. I felt disengaged from my home, completely detached. Even in my current home I felt disengaged.”
“I took your phone,” Zacharias said, then elaborated before I could comment. “I didn’t want the police digging into your phone for no reason. They could never have traced it, not to where you were—are. I still wanted you to have your privacy. I returned it to your home the morning I got you your clothes.”
I wasn’t much upset. It was a trivial thing to get upset over when looking at the big picture. My phone was in my suitcase now, too, for the same reason Zacharias took the one from before. “I see.”
The music slowed down again, fervency in the pitch as opposed to the speed. “We never had a good foundation, Edie. I never played my cards right with you. You’re smart, stubborn and strong. When you told me about your father it explained why you never let me get away with anything. I was textbook case for you. And I want to say I’m sorry because I am...but I can’t mislead you by telling that I’m different now. I’m not. But I’m trying. I’m trying for you.”
More closure in my decision. “We lost our plot along the way, Zacharias. Our story has been obscured, but sometimes you have to lose the plot in order to find out how it needs to end. Sometimes you can’t play your cards, you just have to let them fall where they may. Sometimes fate just has to rear its ugly head.”
“You talk about us like we’re two characters in a novel.” he laughed lightly, jovially, at my unabashed response.
“I know,” I smiled. The music was coming to an end again. Zacharias and I danced over to the record and he restarted the music for the third time. The way he held me was comfortable, warm, natural. I wasn’t even thinking about it as we conversed. “But I’m serious. Five years apart is a long time, but it was necessary to put things into perspective. Time waits for no one. We both moved forward even without each other. But it all ends with us. Our story doesn’t end with us apart—”
Another catch in my throat. This was harder than I thought.
“—It ends with us together. It has to. If our story doesn’t end with us then our plot is never found. Sometimes you have to finish where you began,” I swallowed. “And I wish it didn’t need to be that way, but it does. I can’t change the future. I can’t change our plot, I can’t go back in time and erase you from it. I can’t even finish my plot without you. I need you so it can just...end. I need you, Zacharias, because we need to be free. We all have our own stories. In the end don’t we all become stories?”
Everything spilled like a confession from my lips. My words came out fast, jumbled. My eyes stung as I tried to blink back tears. The longer I looked at him, and the more I spoke to him, the guiltier I felt. He had admitted to me that he hadn’t changed, which offered me closure, but I still felt so, so ashamed. Was I making the right choice?
“I think we all have our own stories,” he agreed. “But I don’t think all of us become stories. It’s only the unlucky ones that get the privilege.”
“Do you think we’re unlucky, Zacharias?” I asked him.
He shook his head slowly, emboldening my feelings of absurdity before absolving them. “I think you deserve better than you were dealt, Edie, and I think I was dealt better than I deserve. I don’t think I’m unlucky because I was given my greatest gift in this life, I was given you. But you are unlucky. If you hadn’t been working that night, we’d have never met. Our stories never would have joined, and our plots never would have intertwined. I think our five years apart, unwittingly to us both, was an insight to what your life would’ve been like had our paths never crossed.”
“I don’t think my father ever would’ve come back into my life.” I said halfheartedly, sarcasm becoming my crutch at his honesty. He smiled at this.
“You eventually would’ve left to the big city because at some point you would’ve realized your small town was too limiting. You would’ve went to college—or university, as you chose—and you would’ve pursued a career. You were always going to be successful, Edie. You were always going to become greater than you thought. And if it took me letting you go you for you to realize that then I find peace in knowing I didn’t let you go for nothing.”
The music became dark again. His hand was crushingly tight in mine as I held it for dear life. I knew what I was about to say next was going to kill the moment, but it was true. I couldn’t let the burden of what-could-have-beens influence the decision I had already made.
“If it wasn’t for nothing I wouldn’t have come back.”
“I never asked you to.”
I nodded, silenced by his words. He was right. He had never asked me to. But his efforts had been for nothing...I, under my own influence, had made his efforts meaningless. I never for a second blamed him for my coming back. What I did blame him for was the feeling that my life was meaningless unless I came back. If he had never marked me this dilemma would’ve been a lot less significant.
But only I could control my actions. I knew that. I didn’t need to come back, I wanted to.
“I don’t blame you for my decision to return,” I said, swallowing my pride. “Please don’t think that.”
I averted eye contact and rested my cheek against his chest, listening to the steady beat of his heart. He didn’t respond—I didn’t expect him to. I relaxed my body, moulded into him, inhaled his masculinity and his pheromones. His hand slid from the small of my back to my ribcage, his arm horizontal across my spine. I hated the way he made me feel safe.
The music reached its crescendo as Zacharias and I reached our final calm. The sound of his heart rushed like blood in my ears, and I tried to memorize the steady rhythm. I closed my eyes, his drumming heart in one ear and the exquisite piano in the other. There was a moment of tranquility, to a degree I had never felt before and would never feel again. I felt...serene.
I wasn’t moving woodenly any longer, either, swaying in unison with Zacharias. In that moment I realized that although we were so juxtaposed to each other we were still very parallel but in entirely different ways. I hated that I found some humanity in him.
It seemed that him being able to change his skin, to shed his humanness for wildness, was only a scapegoat to attempt to justify his animalistic, primal urges. It was as though Mother Nature herself, and the rocky marble of the sky, were trying to shed light onto why Zacharias was so domineering and territorial of things he staked claim to. But I wasn’t a fool. I knew it was all him. His second skin couldn’t fool me any longer.
Zacharias was the way he was because of Zacharias, not because he was half-wolf. The fact that he was half-wolf gave him an advantage. It allowed him to embrace what he desired to his full craving. His wolfishness, his rapaciousness, could be pursued full-throttle because his strength was greater than that of any mans. His shapeshifting enabled him, it did not control him.
But still I asked, as the music slowed once again, “can I watch you run?”
The way he rocked me almost lulled me to sleep. “Always.”
We danced until it was midnight, even after Zacharias gave up on replaying the music.
I sat on the top step as Zacharias stood unashamed in his nudity on the cool grass below. Even if he was simply a human in the presence of other humans, there’d be nothing to be ashamed of. He was so perfectly carved and sculpted, an image of strength and perfection. Once again I was rendered awestruck by him, taking him in as he was.
People shifted all around us; lithe, naked bodies cracking and breaking into unearthly, regal wolves. Hues of blonde and auburn and brown raced into the forest at speeds I still could not comprehend. For a moment I wished I too had the ability to shift and run through the forest on four paws. I longed to howl at the moon, to feel air blowing through my fur. I tried to imagine how omnipotent one would feel, but was unable to grasp the concept of that kind of power.
Zacharias looked back to me as I sat there, a silent observer. I nudged at him with my chin, reassuring him that I would not be incensed by him running without me. He gave me a soft acknowledgement, turning his back to me to shift, before turning back around. He put his foot on the bottom step, hovering over the rest as he cupped my jaw and kissed me.
“I love you.”
He said, and didn’t wait for a response. He turned his back to me and, without any hesitation, shifted. It happened so quickly that it wasn’t gory, but the sound was still horrifying to my heightened hearing. Instantly, as soon as he shifted into his second skin, I could smell the animal. No longer did he smell like a man, he smelt like a beast. Maybe this was what nature intended, the wires simply got crossed.
One last look at me over his shoulder, his emerald eyes nearly neon. His obsidian fur blew in the soft wind, silvered by the moonlight that rained down upon the land and its great foliage. He dropped his chin before turning around and taking off into a sprint. He flew forward like a rocket, long legs taking him a far distance in a short time. He passed by lingering wolves who, in turn, followed their leader. I watched him until he disappeared into the forest.
I heard a howl that my body recognized as his, before a cacophony of symphonic howls followed. I closed my eyes, a chill passing through me. I wanted to intrude no longer, so I stood up and took my leave. As my hand hovered over the doorknob, however, I caught a familiar scent. Someone had stayed behind.
I turned around, facing James who was in his second skin. He stood on four paws, his coat black like Zacharias’; his eyes, however, did not stand out. He looked like a hellhound, and the way his black eyes engaged me was unnerving. He didn’t move, his chest seemingly flat without breaths. Only he knew what was going to happen once I walked through the doors. It was our secret, one I could imagine was heavy for him to carry.
“You were wrong,” I said to him, lip wobbling as I smiled. “Now you may never see me again.”
And I disappeared inside, putting everything in place.