ALPHA

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Chapter 8: Ups & Downs


7:50 PM MST

Wyatt hands me a bowl of baked beans and a cup of water, then sits down beside me to eat. I’ve noticed the way he has completely ignored Canuck and fed me first – something I wouldn’t have dreamed possible to happen anytime soon.

I can’t help shoveling the food into my mouth quickly, without stopping, until I’m almost done.

“What about Canuck?” I ask finally, scraping the remaining beans in my bowl and giving the wolf a considerate look.

Glancing back to Wyatt, his smile falters, and I pray I haven’t ruined his good mood. He raises an eyebrow at me after swallowing a mouthful. “Since when do you care about Canuck?”

“I don’t know…”

Wyatt laughs, but it’s more like a scoff.

“You feel sorry for him?” he guesses, gesturing to where Canuck is still laying obediently.

“Yeah.”

“Don’t,” he warns with that harsh, blunt tone I’m quickly growing used to. “It’s not okay to fuck with me like that, and he knows better.”

The miserable looking wolf sends feelings of guilt through me; it turns me off from the last spoonful of my supper. Wyatt insists I eat it, and as I chew, I consider that it’s also because of Canuck that I’m alive right now – I should be paying him back…

As Wyatt’s weight lifts off the mattress, I feel heavier than ever.

8:02 PM MST

After cleaning up Wyatt stretches, takes off his jacket, and throws another log on the fire.

“How many times do I have to tell you to get that leg up?” he asks, turning back to me.

I don’t even bother answering and just pull it from the floor and onto the mattress; wincing at the pain. The limb is getting stiffer and stiffer, which scares me, but at least the rags aren’t soaked – the bleeding has stopped.

Laying back just makes me tired but Wyatt encourages the rest as he takes a seat at my side. “You must be exhausted huh?” he comments. His blue eyes sweep my face and he even reaches forward to brush an eyelash or something off my cheek. “Get some sleep, Calix.”

It’s an absolutely incredible feeling that takes hold of me at his kindness, especially when I consider all the ups and downs of the day. It fills me from head to toe and makes my chest swell. I find, as drained as I am, I don’t want to sleep; I don’t want to miss this rare compassion Wyatt’s spoiling me with.

Somehow, he can read all of this on my face. I must be a total open book because he smiles wide – teeth showing behind his beard – and guesses why I’ve been staring in admiration at him for the last minute. “You want me to stay?”

As soon as I nod, Wyatt starts moving. He pulls me up to sit then climbs behind me on the mattress and stretches his legs out on either side of mine. Whatever issue he had with skinship before has certainly been overlooked because he easily pulls my back against his chest and rests his chin on the top of my head. I’m half-sitting, half-laying against him between his legs as we enjoy a brief silence.

I feel that much better; that much safer…

“I’m sorry for being such an unreasonable and insensitive jerk today,” he says finally, echoing something similar from this morning. I immediately regret this position face-forward to the cabin. I really want to see for myself what kind of face Wyatt is making as he admits the shortcomings of his personality. “I know you didn’t sign up for this and I’m taking it out on you anyway.”

“It’s okay,” I allow irrationally, continuing to talk before I can even think about what I’m saying. “It’s unfair for you too. I know you hate people…”

He wraps large arms around my shoulders and squeezes, digging his nose into my hair as he lets out a relieved kind of sigh. “You flipped everything upside down the moment we found you, but I’m glad we got to you in time. Not just glad… I’m fucking thankful, Calix, that it was you we rescued. You seem to get me, you know?”

That feeling from before – the absolutely incredible one – slams into me again even more powerfully. I feel elated; my breath catches in my throat. With Wyatt so close, showing me the tiniest bit of affection, it erases everything he’s done. The humiliating way he grabbed my neck – my hair; all of it is forgiven and forgotten with a surge of appreciation.

“I totally get you,” I confirm, not even bothering to hide the desperation in my tone.

The arms stop squeezing so tight, but they’re still wrapped around me as Wyatt presses his bearded cheek to mine. “It’s actually nice keeping a cute little puppy around.”

I can’t find it in me to fight the comment even though I know that Wyatt doesn’t always have this opinion. I’m too content and relaxed in the moment to call him out on it; my heart beat is a steady thump that reminds me of Wyatt’s, and somehow even the tension in my leg seems to have eased up. Just being close to him, I find myself thinking dangerous things… like how nice it would be if Wyatt didn’t have to leave for hours at a time and just stayed with me – no fighting, no bitch drama…

8:13 PM MST

Wyatt’s hand slides down my arm and pulls my wrist up for inspection. It’s a bit bony in comparison to his, but he taps on the watch’s display. “Stop looking at it,” he growls. “I said earlier didn’t I? You need to let go of time.”

“And you need to write a book. Memoirs of a Mountain Man,” I mutter before mocking Wyatt’s deep voice and advice. “Part one: Letting go of time.”

I half-expect Wyatt to take offense, but he laughs and rubs a dirty hand all over my chin where there’s no facial hair. “Part two: Growing a beard.”

“Part three: Taming a wild wolf,” I conclude, gesturing to Canuck.

“It’s basically how it went,” Wyatt agrees. I can still hear his good mood reflected in the tone of his soothing voice; it rumbles deep in his chest.

“How’d you meet Canuck, anyway?” I ask. There was something Wyatt said about it when he carried me here, but that whole incident has become a blur of foggy details thanks to the incredible shock I endured.

My wrist is still in Wyatt’s hand and he absently plays with it – shaking back and forth before smoothing his palm against mine. The difference in the size of our hands is noticeable, but it’s also much more than that. A fine layer of grime and dirt has settled under his nails; the dark tan he’s earned contrasts with the ghost-like paleness of my own skin. Just putting them side by side like this paints the picture of how opposite we really are and it’s like he’s experimentally coming to terms with it.

“Where to start, eh?” Wyatt says, luckily up for story-time. “A month or two after I came up here, I noticed a wolf pack on the mountain– I thought, fuck, I’m in their territory and hunting’s going to be a shit-show. But then I started getting familiar with the area. I noticed that pack had left and the only wolf for miles was this scrawny one all by himself. I’m still not sure if he separated or what… anyway he was drawn to the scent of me, and even worse, all of the meat I was hording. I kept fighting him off, sending shots in the air and stuff when he got too close but nothing worked. Calix, I tell you, he was a stubborn, hungry thing that didn’t stop bothering me.”

I laugh as he continues, sliding his fingers between mine and holding tight. It feels so completely normal I just let him without thinking about it.

“Finally I just started feeding him all the leftover crap. I left it in buckets outside the cabin at night and every morning I’d wake to find it gone. Eventually, I realized the wolf was totally dependent on me. He’d follow me while hunting, while bathing – fucking couldn’t get rid of him even if I tried. So then against better judgement I took him in and gave him a name…”

“Why Canuck?” I ask with a distasteful frown. “Because of the hockey team?”

“Buddy, you’re in B.C,” Wyatt reminds. ”Everyone’s a Canuck’s fan here. But actually I tried naming him a bunch of times. Canuck is the only thing he ever responded to.” There’s a pause and then Wyatt squeezes my hand one last time before letting go. “I’ve stayed here so long because of him,” he admits, tone suddenly solemn. “I can’t bring myself to leave Canuck out here after he’s gotten so attached. Between you and me, he’s completely useless.”

I glance down to Canuck who is now sleeping peacefully – still in the exact same spot on the floor beside us. Wyatt’s words tug on my heartstrings again and I can’t help but try to twist and look back at him. His beard twitches in a smile as our eyes meet.

“I’m useless too,” I manage. “I-I just let you and Dax do everything…”

“You’re not useless,” Wyatt disagrees with a firmer than necessary tone. His bushy brows pull together seriously as if he’s insulted I’ve even said such a thing. “You’re injured. Look, Calix, I have zero expectations of you. I don’t need you to chop wood, or hunt, or get water or any of those things. You let me handle all that alright? You need to get better. We need you walking as soon as possible.”

I brighten – suddenly reminded that there’s a plan to get me off this mountain. It seems absolutely insane to have even forgotten, for half a moment, about my family waiting for me. “And we’re going to the radio tower?” I ask.

He nods – hand petting me – but it’s noticeably different this time. Instead of a smooth palm, I can feel every one of his fingertips as Wyatt scratches them through to the back of my neck. Down near my nape, he applies pressure and thumbs circles like before. It makes me so sleepy I wonder if he’s doing it on purpose. “That’s where you grabbed me,” I say dreamily, referring to the awful way he pulled my neck to Canuck earlier. As my eyes close, I turn and fall back against him; he’s unable to continue at the angle he’s at but he hugs me tight again instead.

“I’m sorry if I hurt you, Calix,” he mumbles. “I didn’t mean to. I wasn’t really thinking.”

“It’s okay,” I say mid-yawn. “You feel better, right?”

“Loads,” he replies.

“And it had to happen, like you said…”

“Exactly,” he breathes – almost like he’s fascinated. “Fuck, that’s good to hear…”

Being so close to the edge of sleep makes these words confusing. I’m not sure I understand them. “What’s good to hear?”

“That you’re listening to me,” Wyatt laughs and his chest rises slightly underneath me. “It makes it easy to reward you like this.” He squeezes again – I’m almost completely and fully relaxed to the point where I’ll drift off any moment. “You respond way better to positive reinforcement, don’t you?”

Again… talking like I’m a dog…

This time though, it’s not really that bothersome. Deep down, I know that it’s the only way I can connect with Wyatt. So I give a tiny nod at his question and he relaxes his tight squeeze, maintaining a loose hold across my chest.

“Thought so. It’s too much for lost little puppies to get yelled at on top of everything, isn’t it?” His tone turns teasingly sympathetic but I’m too tired to come up with a sassy retort. “Puppies need hugs or else they feel lonely and forgotten.”

“Shut up…”

“And tickles…”

My body seizes at once and I sit up off his chest as if in immediate danger of getting a beard to my neck again. But Wyatt just laughs and sits up too.

“Calm down, I’m just kidding.”

There’s a hollow disappointment in my heart as he moves off the bed and stands. Wyatt’s time indulging me is over, and I can’t move past the part where I was kind of hoping he’d just let me fall asleep on him. I regret the insufferable way I lifted off him as Wyatt pushes my shoulder back down to the mattress.

“Go to sleep,” he says.

“What about you?” I ask quietly.

“Too much to do.”

I know that flippant tone is here to stay and I simply close my eyes instead; pulled into the heavy, deep sleep I’ve been battling against.

9:00 AM MST

I turn off the alarm programmed in my watch and roll over.

Waking up takes much longer this time. Having been in a dead, dreamless slumber, several minutes pass before I gather my senses.

The first thing I notice is that Wyatt is gone. The cabin is empty, but bright, and there’s no plaid jacket or beard to be found.

It kind of hurts to be left behind by him. With no willpower to face life without Wyatt or Dax, I close my eyes again and fall back to sleep.

10:06 AM MST

The door to the cabin bursts open with the kick of a heavy boot and once again Wyatt enters with his arms full of dead birds.

I wake immediately at his arrival and sit up so quick my head spins with a blood rush. As he puts everything down on the table, Canuck races inside happily – tail wagging. Judging by the tongue hanging out of his mouth and the way he’s excitedly panting, it’s clear Wyatt’s punishment is over and he’s in seventh heaven.

“Where’d you go?” I ask, rubbing my eyes as I stretch a very sore, stiff leg to the floor. It’s getting incredibly difficult to manage but I think it has something to do with healing.

“Aw man, Calix, I got so much done!” Wyatt announces, totally manic as he sets his shotgun on the rack by the door. When he turns to me, I notice the difference in his appearance almost immediately.

“You look clean,” I comment, trying to stand. Not only do I need to stretch the leg but I also need to go to the bathroom.

I focus on a bearded face that looks like it’s had a layer of grime recently removed from it as Wyatt hooks an arm around my ribs and walks me outside; somehow knowing exactly what I need to do without having to say it out loud.

“Yeah, do I smell better too?”

I don’t think twice about stopping, standing on my toes and sniffing his neck.

“Lots better – and did you brush your teeth or something?” I ask, catching a bit of a minty smell from him. Wyatt grins, setting us back on track to a cluster of piss-soaked trees. “How?”

“I’m not that gross,” he informs. “Obviously I brought a toothbrush with me. I mean… it’s kind of worn but it does the trick every so often.”

I test my own breath and frown. Alcohol and beans don’t exactly make for the best fragrance. “Can I brush mine too?”

“Yeah, whatever,” Wyatt agrees, totally unconcerned with sharing. He sets me in front of the tree and this time I don’t feel near as embarrassed as before. It might have something to do with being that much more comfortable in Wyatt’s presence but I don’t squeak or squirm if it appears that he is going to turn around.

Instead, I keep talking.

“Where did you wash up?”

“There’s a stream near here – water’s cold as fuck but better than nothing. The hot spring’s definitely the best though…”

This grabs my attention immediately. “Hot spring? For real?”

“Loads of them around here.”

“Can I go?”

He hesitates. “Eh… it’s a bit of a climb…”

I know by that tone that he’s considering my leg.

“Come on,” I insist. “Please?”

“Maybe,” he allows. “If you feel better. How was your sleep? I almost thought you were dead when I left this morning.”

“It was alright,” I shrug finishing up, zipping my fly and leaving it at that. There’s no way I’m going to mention the gnawing emptiness I felt waking up alone…

10:16 AM MST

After sitting me down and giving me some water, Wyatt starts breakfast.

His multi-tasking has his complete and utter attention so I glance over to Canuck who is resting at his side. The poor wolf is totally wrapped around Wyatt’s finger. Despite being punished so severely, he doesn’t look like he’s holding it against Wyatt at all. In fact, he looks happier than I’ve ever seen him just being allowed at his side.

I can’t help understanding completely.

10:45 AM MST

Wyatt hands me some grouse after feeding Canuck – defining my place as the bitch at the bottom of the pack once again.

“Hey, what’d I tell you about that fucking watch, huh? Last chance,” he warns, catching me off guard.

The idea that I’ve irritated him somehow by checking my watch is mind-boggling. I’m not sure how to even respond to him; a dangerous shiver has shot through my body rendering me incapable of replying. So instead I keep my head down and start eating gratefully.

We both eat quickly and then before I know it, he’s up and about again.

11:32 AM MST

The worst part isn’t my leg, or the way Wyatt treats me. It’s simply enduring.

I’m not used to sitting still but here I am completely bed-bound; I’m not used to keeping my mouth shut but Wyatt is too busy to entertain me with conversation.

He’s been in non-stop mode for the last hour. Tidying, chopping wood - I’m not sure what he’s doing but he’s outside with an axe and I’ve taken the risk checking my watch just to see how long it’s been since he last talked to me.

Canuck yawns and stretches from the middle of the room, catching my attention. His grey fur is shiny in the sunlight streaming from the open cabin door and it looks soft; hypnotizingly touchable… but soon his yellow eyes land on me and his posture stiffens. I watch one ear bend towards his head, his tail twitch; then he finally he sits up and stares me down.

There’s something out of this world about looking a semi-domesticated - but mostly wild - wolf in the eyes for longer than ten seconds.

It makes my heart pound.

Soon, Canuck is making his way over and I’m not sure what to do. Last time I screamed, Wyatt got mad. Last time I tried to touch him, Wyatt got mad.

Canuck seems to understand this. He stretches on the ground beside the mattress, just an arm’s length away and continues staring at me. The closest he gets is turning on the spot and flicking his tail against my knee.

I break a smile.

“Hi Canuck,” I greet. He cocks his head slightly at his name and I give a small wave. “Are we getting along now, or are you still going to eat me?”

His mouth opens at my question and his tongue hangs out panting; not exactly reassuring.

“Okaaay… anyway. I’d be very happy if you didn’t eat me, or try to make me your bitch, from now on.”

Silence still, but I’m not sure what I expect.

“Wyatt doesn’t like it, and neither do I. So let’s be friends.”

Canuck leans forward but then one ear twitches again and he’s off greeting Wyatt at the door to the cabin. It’s no good anyway. Wyatt doesn’t even so much as look at us when he returns; he’s completely absorbed in what he’s doing as he loads up some firewood.

I decide to test the waters.

“Wyatt?”

“What?”

“Can I brush my teeth now?”

“Okay,” he says. “But then I’m going out with Canuck.”

I don’t want to believe what he’s saying, but there’s no mistaking that tone.

“Why?” I ask quietly.

“Going to look for your brother,” he replies, standing up. He makes his way over to the small supply closet from before and whips out a worn looking toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste. Then he fills a cup with water and hands me everything, giving a rough laugh at the expression on my face. “What’s the matter? I thought you wanted me to search?”

I’m surprisingly conflicted. I want Wyatt to find Dax so bad… but the thought of being left alone for even a few hours has my mind spinning and my breath hitching.

“I-I do…” I finally mutter – knowing there’s no sense being so selfish. Once I get home, I’ll only regret the fact that we didn’t try our hardest to find Daxton in time.

I stare down at a damaged looking toothbrush and dip it into the water.

“I don’t have to go, you know,” Wyatt prompts. “If you want me to stay then just say it.”

There’s no way I could. I avoid Wyatt’s eyes completely even though all I’ve wanted this past hour is for him to look my way for even a second. Thankfully I have the toothbrush and toothpaste as a distraction. Then again… these kinds of tricks don’t really work on Wyatt…

“What is it, eh?”

“Don-chu-wan-find-im?” I ask between steady brushes.

My question seems to set Wyatt off a little. I can’t help glancing up to him to see his eyebrows pull together in a way I’ve grown used to understanding comes before his outbursts.

“Not really. Here’s a fucking news flash for ’ya Calix; I don’t give a shit about your brother.”

He says it so bluntly that the toothbrush stops completely and hangs almost limp out of my mouth. Meanwhile, my heart starts racing. There’s anger flooding through me at his comment - but I have no way to vent it. Instead it just swirls around as I try to keep us both calm.

“Wh-why?”

Wyatt is pretty much glowering now. “Getting you into this mess… fucking leaving you out here…”

It seems I’ve stepped on a landmine somehow and I carefully brush my teeth until I finish, spitting into the cup and handing everything back to him. I can’t control the need to clear the air; it’s important – for some crazy, backwards reasoning – that Wyatt care about my brother.

“He didn’t do it on purpose,” I start out again. “And –”

“He took all the supplies, Calix,” Wyatt reminds. “What kind of douchebag –”

“No!” I interrupt desperately. “Not all of them. Just what he needed–”

“Why didn’t he just take you with him?”

The question is surprising but it succeeds in breaking all rationality and getting me pissed too. “Because I was tired and –”

“You don’t just fucking leave someone behind like that, you fucking moron!” he shouts, totally ending the argument with these final words. His hands are balled at his side and one glance at them has me closing my mouth resolutely. I realize too late there’s nothing I can say, however reasonable I’m trying to be.

Besides, there’s no amount of physical or mental force Wyatt can subject me to that will make me change my mind.

Dax wouldn’t do that.

11:47 AM MST

Wyatt leaves without a word.

12:52 PM MST

There’s nothing to concentrate on and the bitter argument about my brother has left me anxious.

1:02 PM MST

It’s not Dax’s fault… it’s all because of Wyatt.

I’m more upset at the fact that he’s in a bad mood again than I am about what he’s said, exactly.

2:15 PM MST

Maybe when he comes back, he’ll have cleared his head a bit and we can start over.

2:58 PM MST

I’ll just apologize as soon as he returns.

3:15 PM MST

I’ll tell him he’s right and thank him for even going out and looking for someone he apparently doesn’t give a shit about…

4:26 PM MST

The pain in my leg takes over and makes my head swim and throb. I can no longer nervously wait for Wyatt’s return. I have to close my eyes…

6:16 PM MST

I wake to a palm on my forehead.

Wyatt’s either taking my temperature, or he’s petting me and I honestly don’t care which one. I sit up so fast my vision gets dark and I can’t help how close I pull his smoky jacket in. I press it right to my nose and latch-hug his arm…

“Not now, Calix,” he dismisses harshly. Wyatt pulls the limb from my grasp as he stands and I fight the confusing feeling of rejection; face heating. Before I can even start getting upset, he pulls a backpack from the floor and tosses it to me. “We found something out there. Is it yours?”

I’m numb with shock at the sight of my backpack.

Then there’s a sudden rush as I frantically open the top of the zipper and find everything inside; my change of clothes, my own toothbrush, my useless cell phone with no service…

“How did you…” I begin, amazed, before correcting myself to the more important question. “Did you find Dax?”

Wyatt’s grave look says everything, but he explains anyway. “Canuck sniffed that out. There didn’t seem to be anyone around but we searched the area. This was all we could find.”

It’s immediately confusing. “That’s it?” I repeat. “What about –”

He shakes his head and I can’t find my voice to finish the sentence.

Suddenly everything is so painful. I squeeze the pack tight to my chest as if this will help things but it’s not at all comforting. No matter how hard I press it against me, I still feel the sharp sting of loss.

6:42 PM MST

Wyatt clearly doesn’t want to deal with me at all today; from waking up alone, to watching him do chores, to him leaving me all afternoon...

It’s a complete slap in the face and his cold shoulder is making me so insecure I can barely cope. I’m not sure what I’ve done wrong other than attempt to stand up for my brother before he left. All I can do is hold my backpack to my chest and occasionally risk a glance in his direction as he sets to work making supper.

He’s filleting a bunch of trout and preparing it at the kitchen table while Canuck waits at his side – unblinking – hoping for something to drop to the floor.

I feel so completely excluded and it just makes me crazier. Bitter thoughts take over… reminders of trying hard to get along… doing whatever Wyatt said for the sake of his pack…

If he doesn’t care about me, he shouldn’t get so intimate with me like last night.

It just gives me false hope that he’ll be gentle.

It just hurts ten times more when he treats me so coldly.

I feel so stupid.

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