ALPHA

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Chapter 9: Bickering & Bonding


7:03 PM MST

I’m thirsty and need to piss, but also full of bitter rage with absolutely no intention to acknowledge Wyatt’s existence, because he’s definitely not acknowledging mine. So I decide to take things into my own hands for once, starting now.

I test my leg against the floor of the cabin to see if it’s gotten worse since lying around and it shakes unsteadily as I apply any weight to it. With stubborn willpower, I make it halfway to the door before Wyatt notices me limping away.

“The fuck are you doing, Calix? Get back to bed.”

He points the tip of a fillet knife in the direction of the mattress but I keep moving forward; eyes trained on the cabin door as I explain myself.

“I have to pee so –”

There’s a clatter as he drops his knife to the table and walks forward to help me. “Then all you have to do is say it. Can’t wait two minutes or what?”

Wyatt reaches for my elbow but I pull it back quickly.

“I want to do it myself,” I explain to the dark look he’s giving me. Oh God, there’s no way to describe the resentment I feel; the games he’s playing with me are so frustrating. As I give him a sour glare Wyatt reaches for me again and this time his fingertips brush my arm before I almost fall backwards in an attempt to jerk it away.

“Woah! Calix! Just let me help before you fucking hurt yourself!”

I can’t stop it. The words rush out of me as all of my emotions boil over; even the suppressed ones.

“I don’t want your help! Y-you’re being such a jerk… and getting mad… ignoring me a-and brushing me off!” The tears pour out before I can stop them and Wyatt takes another step toward me.

“Going to start a fight with me?” There are a million things wrong with his statement – but I can’t even focus; I can’t even speakbecause he silences my coming spitfire by finally grabbing my arm. ”Stop crying."

I end up sniffling and hiccupping in his grasp as he walks me to the cabin door; my leg can barely keep up and it only takes one misstep for pain to shoot through it like thousands of little black bear teeth are ripping my flesh apart. The scream forces Wyatt to stop dragging me; after he shakes his head, he turns sympathetic and soothing.

“Your leg hurting that bad?”

For some reason I nod my head desperately. Of course there’s been a ridiculous amount of pain but it’s constant. The heart-crushing highs and lows of Wyatt is the unbearable part.

“Shit, I’m sorry, Calix. Why don’t you sit down, take a shot and hear me out; then we’ll try going outside again after, okay?”

There’s no choice, as usual. He’s already steering me back to the bed – gently this time – and I haven’t even blubbered out a response. Guilt and grief; terror and shame. Wave after wave, these things attack me as he sits me down and grabs the vodka from the kitchen. There’s an unsettling hope that Wyatt’s not mad at my outburst… somehow I’ve lost all of that bitter rage from a few minutes ago.

“Here,” he says, employing a very gentle tone as he guides a cup into my hands. I choke back two gulps before coughing and gagging; it’s getting worse the more I drink it. Wyatt joins me by finishing the rest and putting the cup down. By then I’m at least breathing normally even if tears continue to roll down my face. “Now back it up to the part where you’re going to fight me?”

He’s way too intense; blue eyes send a shiver up my spine as he looks at me.

“I’m not! I just –”

“You’re just forgetting your place again,” he finishes for me; then he loses the murderous edge as he starts into a desperate lecture. “Damn Calix, what were you thinking? Getting up? Going out there alone?” A rough hand gestures wildly to the cabin door and the wilderness beyond. “What if you had seriously hurt yourself? Makes me think, does he go out alone when I’m not here? Then you know what that does?”

“Makes you mad…”

“Fucking right it does! You can’t just do something so selfish and not expect me to get angry about it!”

Alcohol is almost immediately in effect. It sounds crazy but I can feel the warmth shooting from my stomach to my fingertips as I try to wipe away my tears.

“So what’s your place, Calix?”

I stubbornly suck in my lip and chew it to pieces in a bold refusal to answer Wyatt.

“You need me to remind you?” He leans in almost menacingly.

“No,” I squeak, shrinking back as fear takes over. There’s a wicked bark to our left and Canuck has our attention, whining when Wyatt makes eye contact.

I must be missing something. I’m certain of it as Wyatt eases up, massaging a crick in his neck.

“I don’t want to scare you... Calix just calm down alright. What happened to getting me?”

Holding me to something I said so desperately I barely remember it… Wyatt has a way of twisting words and forcing me to either go back on them or follow through. And I’m not a liar.

“I-I do get you but...”

“Then you should realize I’m mad at everything else but you alright?”

I still have no idea what he means but the important part is that he doesn’t seem ready to kill me. I finally meet his eyes after rubbing a few tears from my own.

“Really? Like what?”

Wyatt’s posture relaxes a little and now that I’m making eye contact he gets on his knees in front of me for a third time. But, this time there’s the realization that the only reason he does it is to take away the formidable, intimidating edge he can sometimes channel just standing over someone.

“Eh, like your brother… Canuck… and I’m not too happy with myself either,” he admits.

“Then… why’d you brush me off so bad?” I ask quietly, reaching for his arm and indicating the way he pulled it from me earlier.

His head hangs slightly and a few choppy brown pieces fall forward. “I didn’t mean to upset you,” he admits. “Earlier it was just a gut reaction – just the wrong time for me…”

I frown at this because it is the most frustrating part. The alcohol is giving me courage but it’s kind of ridiculous to say that when tears are drying on my cheeks.

“Well when is the right time?” I demand. “I’m tiptoeing around your crazy mood swings. I’m so tired of it – I’ve been by myself all day and you go from hugging me… holding my hand –” I bring it up for emphasis, “to – to…”

I can’t get out the last part but Wyatt turns sympathetic.

“I know,” he says – as if he understands even an ounce of what I feel. Of course he doesn’t… “Hey, now’s the right time okay?” Wyatt stands and opens his arms invitingly. “Bit late but…”

It’s sickening.

Really.

I’ve been poisoned to the core of my being with a hysterical need for Wyatt’s affection. There’s almost no hesitation in the way I hug him. It’s just a tight embrace that immediately lightens my heart and takes away some of the built up torture of being rejected and excluded. In his large arms, it’s practically impossible to feel anything bad at all.

“Look, Calix, I’m going to be honest with you alright?” Wyatt mumbles into the top of my head. I pull back just enough that my arms are still wrapped around him but I can look up past his beard. This seems to throw him off guard a bit and I watch him open his mouth before closing and crushing me in a tight squeeze so I can’t see him after all. “I honestly tried to force a bit of distance with you today – but the main reason is I was trying to reconnect with Canuck and it makes it easier if your scent isn’t distracting us.”

Truth is, I’m not listening very well with my nose against his chest, inhaling deeply; though my mind must be a lot clearer than I realize because I make a wild assumption and connect the dots from earlier. “Is that why you bathed?”

His laugh is almost impossible to catch but I manage it being so close to his chest.

“Yeah, actually.”

There’s a silence as he simply holds me; and the longer I touch him – smell him – the more relaxed I get. Deep down I know it’s stupid forgive him so quick, but the vodka stirs and emphasizes the beautiful feeling of doing so.

“I’m not a mind reader,” he starts again quietly. “Tell me what’s wrong instead of bottling it up and setting me off.”

“If I tell you, you’ll get mad,” I accuse. “And I don’t want to… I don’t want you to be mad at me anymore… I just want to find Dax and go home and –”

A dizzying spin overcomes me as Wyatt abruptly rips me off his body. I can’t get a good read on his face as he turns away and heads back towards the supper he’s preparing but the effect of his hug has left me a little less anxious, and warm somehow, so I don’t bother worrying.

I did way too much of that today.

7:36 PM MST

As Wyatt cooks I realize Canuck hasn’t really moved from the spot he interrupted our argument. I stare at him until his yellow eyes meet mine and then I offer him a smile. I’d like to believe he was concerned for my safety, but truth be told I’m sure he just didn’t like seeing his master so unbalanced. Canuck’s senses go beyond anything we’re capable of…

Either way he stepped in to help calm Wyatt down somehow.

“Thanks Canuck,” I whisper so quietly it barely carries anything on my breath. He seems to pick up his name, at least, and he cocks his head again in that strange way that dogs do when you say something that has simultaneously piqued their interest and confused them.

Wyatt’s back is to us; head down and focused on supper. The wolf casts a glance to him before turning back to me and moving forward slightly. It’s just enough that I could probably touch him if I stretched my arm out.

His yellow eyes are fierce and challenging. They sparkle as if daring me to get as close as I want to. But I know better than to do that and I keep completely still – holding his spellbinding gaze.

When Wyatt starts cooking over the fire, he whistles for Canuck and the wolf leaves me behind to trot to his master’s side. He’s immediately rewarded with some mutilated fish heads and he lays down contentedly, ripping meat from bones; a heavy reminder that he is indeed a wild animal.

7:56 PM MST

I still need to pee.

And I’m still thirsty.

But Wyatt’s supper is delicious and when he sits beside me to eat I find I don’t really care about anything else. I offer him a grateful smile, sidling closer so that our legs press together and the look he gives me just makes me laugh.

“No more vodka for you,” Wyatt jokes – but he’s unable to help the smile spreading on his face.

I chew the tender fish, thankful it’s not clover soup, and when I finish, I rest my head on his shoulder for no reason other than I find it extremely comforting. It’s especially nice when his head leans against mine – even if it is for the briefest of moments.

Then he’s up and about cleaning– not stopping until he’s looking around the cabin as if trying to find something else he needs to do.

“Bathroom,” I remind once his eyes land on me.

“How’s your leg?” he asks, approaching to help lift me under the armpit and get me to my feet.

I could shrug - dismiss his concerns - but there’s a sharp and urgent impulse that rips through me at his question; a desire for his rarely given sympathy. “It hurts like hell,” I admit. “You don’t need to bandage it do you?”

Wyatt’s grip of me tightens slightly at the confirmation my leg isn’t doing so well. He steadily walks me towards the cabin door with short, manageable steps. “Nah. Tomorrow maybe. I don’t want to mess with it too much when it’s scabbing.”

Once outside, the smell of fresh mountain air is immediately captivating. I’ve been stuffed inside a dusty cabin for two days straight, after all. It’s so overwhelming I pause for a second and take it in with deep breaths.

“Canuck seems friendlier,” I say, starting conversation again as we make our way to the trees. “He’s not growling at me as much.”

With his back turned, I almost miss Wyatt’s shrug out of the corner of my eye. “Wolves aren’t friendly, Calix,” he corrects. “Canuck’s just tolerating you because he knows if does anything I’m going to fucking lose it.”

It certainly didn’t seem that way to me but... “Are you still upset with him?”

“I dunno,” Wyatt replies distantly; then after a brief moment he continues. “My head’s all messed up…”

“What does that mean?” I ask as I zip my fly.

“After two years out here I got used to a certain way of thinking. Something kind of took over… things became instinctive.” He doesn’t have to explain this to me. It was obvious from the first five minutes interacting with Wyatt that he was a crazy recluse who wasn’t used to human contact. His arm hooks underneath me to make our way back as he continues. “Canuck and I had balance… but with you here, Calix, it’s like I’m losing all of that without a fucking clue how to fix it.”

This statement is heavy and it definitely reminds me what an out of place burden I really am.

“I’m sorry –” I start, but Wyatt shushes me.

“Hey I’m not saying it’s your fault. It is what it is,” he says.

But I can’t help thinking I understand Wyatt completely. “My head’s messed up too,” I admit in a rush to make him feel better.

“That’s just the alcohol,” he dismisses.

“No,” I insist. “No I’m not like this usually I swear…”

“Like what,” Wyatt humours me as we re-enter the cabin.

It’s hard to put into words but as he steers me towards the mattress, I try anyway. “Like, crying and needy…”

“See, I don’t mind those things,” Wyatt says with a laugh. “It’s the annoying, stubborn, time-obsessed parts you could do with getting rid of.”

8:16 PM MST

The alcohol is in full effect.

I feel giddy and euphoric; everything is so much lighter under the influence.

Wyatt must be feeling it to some degree too. Even Canuck can sense something off about him. After he’s stoked the fire, the wolf stretches towards the ground with his rear end high in the air – tail wagging. He barks once at Wyatt who starts razzing him and next thing I know the two are on the floor of the cabin play-fighting.

It’s the first time I’ve witnessed such a scene; a grown, bearded man psyching out his wild dog. He teases left, then right – until Canuck’s jaw finally locks on his arm. My heart rockets to my throat and I’m just about to scream when the wolf removes teeth and there’s no sign of injury underneath.

They must do this a lot, I think, and I end up smiling at the thought.

Canuck is over-excited; he starts leaping and scurrying around the small cabin space, trying to get an impossible advantage on Wyatt. It makes me want to play with them too. I feel restless watching Canuck’s paws push Wyatt to the floor and jealous at the way Wyatt picks up the massive animal in his arms and spins him around.

It all seems reckless, dangerous, totally juvenile; but really fun.

Leg pain pierces through the protective veil of alcohol as if reminding me of my handicap. I’ve only barely glanced at my bandages when Wyatt’s face appears in front of mine.

“Calix, come here,” he says, arms opening wide.

I hesitate for half a second before I hug him tightly and he brings me to the floor as gently as he can manage. Canuck’s crazy bouncing stops and he tilts his head at us. He’s just as confused as I am when Wyatt sits behind me so I can stretch out my leg. He pulls a piece of rope from under the bed and hands it to me.

“Canuck will like this,” he explains. “Try offering it to him.”

I hold out the rope to the wild wolf and watch it fall semi-limp in my grasp. It does the trick in immediately enticing Canuck to come over, though. He grabs the end that’s not in my hand and gives a sharp pull; I’m not exactly ready for it, and it goes flying out of my hand for Canuck to shake back and forth.

Wyatt can’t help laughing behind me.

“He’s strong,” I comment, more embarrassed than I probably should be.

Wyatt whistles and Canuck perks up from his aggressive rope shaking before dropping the toy at his master’s side. When Wyatt hands it to me to try again, I sigh in a defeated kind of way.

“Why are we doing this?” I ask.

“Bonding?” Wyatt suggests – all like it’s an afterthought. “Not the bitch kind either.”

His joke is horrible, but I manage a smile anyway as I turn back and take advantage of Wyatt’s good mood with a question I wouldn’t have otherwise dared asking. “Can I touch him?”

Wyatt thoughtfully strokes his beard and then shrugs like he’s not even sure. “Let’s see.” Once again he whistles sharply and even though Canuck’s eyes were trained on the rope in my hands, they immediately snap to Wyatt’s once called.

He leans over me slightly and taps the open space between my legs as if indicating Canuck to get close. The wolf has no problem obeying and I can see the neurotic happiness emanating from him as he receives any attention whatsoever from Wyatt. It’s kind of desperate, and honestly it’s like looking into a mirror.

Wyatt stretches his arm over my shoulder and lifts his hand in demonstration. First he lets the wolf give it a curious sniff and then he scratches at Canuck’s ears. Even though his tail is wagging back and forth like mad, the rest of Canuck remains completely still at his master’s touch.

“Okay, my turn?”

Admittedly I’m being impatient but Wyatt stops, keeping his arm stretched over me in case he needs to intervene. I’m a giant bundle of nerves as I lift a suddenly shaky hand up in front of Canuck.

“No, Calix,” Wyatt chastises. “You have to be rock-steady.” His hand lifts my elbow up a little higher and I’m considerably less jittery but still anxious.

“What if he bites me?”

“Do you think he will? Take a good look at him.”

For the third time today I meet Canuck’s eyes. They spark with acute awareness of my attention and it’s impossible to find any kind of aggression in them at all. Perhaps it’s because Wyatt’s behind me – or it’s like Wyatt said about him tolerating me in fear of punishment. Either way my confidence is strengthened and I offer Canuck a much more stable hand for him to sniff.

The wolf’s ears press back immediately, but his tail is still wagging. His snout presses against my fingers and then he does a weird sort of wiggle after glancing at Wyatt behind me. All of a sudden he drops his belly to the floor and rolls between my legs, exposing it face up and squirming even more. His tongue immediately ejects from his mouth and hangs from the side of his face as he stares at me from upside down.

“Wh-what’s he doing?”

Wyatt’s silence isn’t very reassuring and I glance over my shoulder at him, noting how his brows are knotted together again.

“Being a weirdo…” he guesses.

“Do I pet him?”

“Go for it.”

My hand reaches out and it’s a very intense moment for me. I’m still not sure if I’m ready to pet Canuck at all and maybe the wolf understands that. He looks extremely domesticated – cute, even – as he pants excitedly and offers me his tummy. His silky smooth fur brushes my fingertips and then I throw all caution to the wind and set my hand on his chest with a rush of adrenalin.

Canuck basically loses his shit. His upside-down wriggling forces my hand back and forth through his fur and I let out a nervous laugh as I let him enjoy the contact.

“I’ve never seen him like this,” Wyatt comments as he removes his cautious arm from my shoulder. He rests his chin there instead to get a good look at the way Canuck is rolling around.

“See, I told you he seemed friendlier to me,” I say, unable to help the ‘I-told-you-so’ tone. Then suddenly I get unsure. “This is friendly, right?”

“He’s not claiming you or anything, that’s for sure,” Wyatt answers in a mumble, just as entranced as I am. “But it’s really weird,” he continues in that damn cryptic tone, forcing me to turn my head slightly. With his chin digging into my shoulder, our faces are unsettlingly close, but I can read his expression better than ever; perplexed concern.

“How?”

“It’s almost like submissive behavior, but… I don’t know; it doesn’t feel right. Stop it.”

My hand falls to my side and Canuck gives me an upside-down look of betrayal. Wyatt sends him off easily with a flick of the wrist and suddenly he’s in a sour mood again; telling by the way he yanks me roughly off the ground and sets me on the bed.

I know at least one solution.

“Can I have another shot?” I ask, successfully pulling Wyatt out of whatever he’s in deep in thought over. His eyes line with mine and he definitely hesitates. “Please?” I insist. “The pain is so bad…”

“Fine,” he allows. “But then drink some water.”

I brighten at the permission, knowing very well how I’m using Wyatt’s guilt and sympathy to my advantage. I just want to keep him talking to me for as long as possible.

He returns with two cups and I’d be stupid to check the time under his watchful stare. It’s kind of invasive as I tip the vodka back, chasing it with the water to his satisfaction. When he sits next to me, something inside my brain explodes; there are a million compulsions that all have to do with Wyatt and I settle for pulling his arm into a hug like earlier. I test his rejection because I know deep down it’s the only way I’ll feel better – wanted.

Thank God he doesn’t pull away. I’m momentarily distracted from my plan of keeping him talking by just enjoying the comfort that is his presence by my side. It’s like hovering on edge all day, only to relax completely inside and out.

Granted, all this could be the alcohol. So thank God for that too.

“Fucking stuff’s strong,” he mutters, having finished a chug of the vodka too. “Oh well, I worked hard all day for it, eh?”

I nod immediately, fascinated with how much he does on a near constant basis. “You work harder than anyone I’ve ever seen,” I comment with a happy squeeze to his arm. It prompts him to look down at me, giving a strange laugh - almost embarrassed - and I hope I haven’t said anything weird. “Um, so where’d you live before coming up here?”

“Nanaimo,” Wyatt answers, referring to a lovely island town off the coast I’m only vaguely familiar with. “Originally from Cranbrook, though. We moved when I was young.”

Remembering that Wyatt had a life before all this fans my interest. I’m suddenly burning with a million questions.

“What did you do for work?”

“I have a Journeyman’s in Carpentry… a few years ago I was doing all kinds of contract jobs.” Before I can even ask what happened, he continues. “I got fired from the last one, though. Listen, Calix, I got some real world advice for you. No matter how hot they are, if you work with a chick and think she’s flirting with you, she probably is but she’ll claim she isn’t and next thing you know, HR’s involved…”

“You didn’t have a girlfriend?” I ask as my mind races with all kinds of made-up scenarios of a young, beardless Wyatt flirting with a girl in a construction hat.

He shrugs, but I hold on tight to his arm. “I wouldn’t say girlfriend…” he starts. “I had a few girls I liked, and dated a bit, but none of them ever clicked.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like, I like the outdoorsy girl you know, and they’re kind of hard to find.” There’s a pause as I absorb this and all I can think of is the family camping trips when I was younger and how often my mother would complain. “What about you, Calix. Any girls back home?”

I just barely control the urge to laugh. “No,” I say instead. “The only girl I ever dated dumped me a few months ago.”

At Christmas.

Wyatt attempts to cheer me up by wrapping the arm I was hugging around me. “The fuck was her problem?”

Somehow it’s easy to laugh about it now, with Wyatt – but only a month ago I was so upset…

“Sh-she just said I was... stupid you know... and that we weren’t going anywhere. I think she was after Dax anyway, to be honest…”

“Woah woah, back up – she said you’re stupid?! What an ice cold bitch!”

There’s a surge of incredulity on my part too. I’m like a leech feeding off Wyatt’s reactions and moods. “Yeah!” I confirm with similar disbelief. “She really was! And like, I never claimed to be smart,” I vent. “Who says that to someone with a learning disability? It was –”

“Wait, what? One thing at a time. What disability?”

Usually it’s embarrassing to admit, but I feel like Wyatt knows me on so many other levels that it’s surprisingly easy to open up to him.

“I have ADD, and I’m dyslexic. So school was a nightmare... but then I got put into an art program and that wasn’t as bad. I’m graduated now so –”

“Art?” Wyatt interrupts again. “Let’s see, can you show me?”

He’s excited as he gets up and rummages through his supply closet for a small notebook and pen. He flips through some of the pages hastily before settling on a blank one and handing it to me.

“Uh – what do you –”

“Draw anything,” he prompts – looking more like a puppy himself than I’ve ever seen him. His blue eyes sparkle with excitement as they flick from me, down to the paper, and back again.

“Okay, stay still,” I instruct, absolutely relishing in the way Wyatt’s face drops knowing I’ll be drawing him.

He must not have that big of a problem with it because as the pen hits paper he stays as still as possible. I start with a rough outline of his facial shape; defining a square jaw. It’s all very, very rough – as expected with pen – so I’m careful with every line I make and the pressure I put behind each stroke. His eyes are the most important part. There’s a need to capture them as perfectly as I can, so I spend a lot more detail on them than I do on his beard. His bushy eyebrows are relaxed currently, but as I draw I can’t help but define them to memory and make them crease towards the middle…

“Wow, you’re good,” Wyatt praises as his eyes flick to my drawing.

I can’t help glowing at the compliment even as I think that it’s not a very good sketch at all. When I’m done, I let him look at it closer and he really does admire it.

“You’re amazing,” he says finally. “Don’t let that cunt bring you down. You have a talent, and you’re not stupid, alright?”

The happiness is nearly overwhelming. I feel close to tears again; but happy tears. Then again, that’s also frustrating. Happy, sad, or angry… I’m about to lose it.

“Drawing is one of the only things I can do without losing focus,” I explain, flipping to a fresh page in the notebook to demonstrate the only way I know how. “This is my mind normally.” I draw jagged lines to emphasize how my attention is pulled in every direction, sometimes branching off of each other. “I can be in the middle of one thought when –” the line I’m drawing cuts short and goes off in another direction. “But this is how it’s like when I’m drawing.” The lines turn to swirls; some intricate, and some simple. It’s representing free-flowing, smooth thought. “Still not perfect but…”

I glance back to Wyatt now and his eyes are focused on the paper. I’m not sure what he’s thinking, but there’s no doubt that he cares, whether it’s the alcohol, boredom or even just the tiniest bit.

As usual, before I can really think it through, I simply continue.

“Then this is my mind right now,” I laugh, drawing a dot with Wyatt’s name above it. I double-check I haven’t spelt it wrong before continuing. “My thoughts begin and end with you. Food? That’s Wyatt. Water? That’s Wyatt. What about my leg? Wyatt.” I draw a smooth circle that connects back to the dot.

I’m not sure what kind of reaction I expect. I simply haven’t thought that far. But Wyatt’s giant smile takes away all growing concern that I’ve shared something too intimate. The arm around my shoulder squeezes and then Wyatt falls back onto the bed, pulling me with him.

“What are you doing?” I ask as he almost crushes me against him.

“Bonding?” he suggests, similar to the way he did earlier. At my weak smile he just runs a hand through my hair. He waits until I press my cheek against his chest before continuing. “You’re all I can think about too,” Wyatt admits. “Ever since you got here. Everything keeps coming back to you and it’s a little frustrating…”

“I know,” I agree even though I’m feeling completely at peace. All of the frustrations from earlier have been buried by alcohol and Wyatt.

We share an extraordinary silence.

As usual, I’m hyperaware of him. Every breath Wyatt takes makes his chest lift slightly – and he smells clean, but still so incredibly earthy… I wonder how long he’ll let me stay like this…

“Damn…” he mutters out loud, breaking the silence. “I’m losing my mind eh? I just really don’t want to let you go…”

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