Heart of a Beast

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Chapter 17 - Crystal

Crystal called out to him as she ran out the gate to the street.

With only the moon and the flashlight in her hands to light the way, she stopped and looked around, but it was impossible to find him in the darkness. The lampposts were few and far between in the community because no one needed them. They could all see well enough that there was no need for excessive street lights, but she didn’t have that same luxury skill set.

Mental curses filled her head as she looked around for any clues as to where he could have disappeared to.

How could you have been so thoughtless? So stupid?

Her heart clenched as the familiar serpent of anxiety coiled around within her. Taking deep breaths, she reminded herself to stay calm as she strode forward and shone the flashlight around.

She didn’t know where to look for him. She wouldn’t be able to pick up his scent and track him like another werewolf. Furthermore, if he wanted to be found, he would show himself.

What if he hates you now? Your one and only mate? The one made by the Goddess to love and care for you for the rest of your life? He’s been nothing but good to you and patient with all your stupid seizures and all he has ever asked of you was a chance. He’s taken so much of your crap and all he wants is a chance.

The beam of her light flashed around from every bush and corner of a house as she approached the community center and the library next to it.

She paused and looked up at the buildings, remembering the first time Tiberius took off. He went to the grove on the other side of the pond behind the buildings that time. Could he have gone there again?

“Crystal?”

She whirled around, clutching at her heart and praying that she didn’t have another episode there on the sidewalk.

Her former best friend, Tamarack, shielded her eyes from the flashlight with her arm.

Crystal took a step back and lowered her flashlight. “T-Tam? What are you doing out here?”

“Night patrol, duh.” Tam crossed her arms over her full chest. “It’s three in the morning. What are you doing out here without someone to protect you?”

Looking down, Crystal fidgeted with the flashlight. “I-I’m looking for… my mate.”

Tamarack didn’t have a mate. At least not yet that Crystal knew about.

“Couldn’t you have waited until morning to look for him?” Tamarack asked. “I mean, you can’t shift. It’s pretty stupid for you to be out here after dark looking for a needle in the haystack when you don’t even have a wolf to shift into.”

Crystal shook her head and rubbed her arm with her free hand. “I’m not looking looking for my mate. We… I mean… I… said something… really mean to him and he just…”

Abandoned me… Like you did…

She swallowed, hanging her head as guilt slithered around her heart.

“He ran off?” Tamarack filled in and sighed. “Look, if he’s upset, maybe he just wants some space?”

“Please, Tam…” Crystal said, squeezing the handle of the flashlight and hanging her head. “Please, help me find him.”

I need to fix this… I need to apologize.

I need him… In some sick, twisted way, I need him…

I’m so pathetic…

Tamarack uncrossed her arms. “Sure, Cris. Want me to organize a search party?”

Shaking her head, Crystal looked back at the library a few yards away. “No. Like you said, he probably wants some space and calling a search party will only invade his need for privacy right now. I want to check one place and if he’s not there, would you mind looking around the gated grounds for a bit with me?”

“I’m out on patrol right now anyway, so it’s no problem.”

“Thanks.” Crystal rubbed her arm again. “I’m sorry to be a burden.”

Tamarack shrugged. “Like I said, it’s no problem. If anything, you made my shift more interesting.”

“Thanks.”

“So, where to?”

“Do you pick up a strong odor? Kind of metallic?”

“Yeah, all around here. Why? Is that you’re mate’s scent?” Tamarack asked with a raised brow and wrinkle of her nose.

Heat flushed over Crystal’s cheeks. “Yeah.”

She turned, not wanting to tell her more. She and Tamarack weren’t close anymore and hadn’t been for years. Tiberius’ curse was more than she wanted to share with her.

After walking around the library and crossing over the field, Tamarack cleared her throat as they neared the pond.

“I’m happy for you, Cris. That you found your mate. And I’m sorry about the way I treated you.”

Crystal stopped in her tracks and looked up at the taller girl.

The moonlight flashed on her rich, curly brown hair that she had pulled back in a ponytail. She smoothed back the loose strands from her face as she looked down at the grass at their feet. “I know I don’t have any excuse for what happened and it’s been bothering me the last couple of years, but I was too ashamed to say anything.”

Tears prickled behind Crystal’s eyes as emotion clogged her throat. “You really hurt me, Tam.”

The pain collected from the last few years wrapped around her chest and constricted. The rawness made it harder to breathe. Years of isolation and self-deprecating thoughts warred within her.

She had always wished she had the courage to face Tamarack and demand to know why she betrayed her and tell her how much she hurt her. Now that the time had come, she fought the sick feeling within as the memories resurfaced.

“I know.” Her voice was low and heavy with regret.

“I needed you,” Crystal said. “You were my best friend and I was going through so much on my own and you… You turned your back on me and made fun of me.”

“I didn’t know you were having seizures and when I saw…” Tamarack shuddered. “It’s been gnawing away at me ever since. I just stood there…”

Tamarack was hanging her head now. A heavy weight weighing down on her shoulders.

“I just stood there like an asshole. I didn’t try to help you and after the way I treated you…” she grimaced, avoiding Crystal’s gaze. “I hated myself for it. I couldn’t face you then and I didn’t know what to say after. So, I took the coward’s route and avoided you altogether so I could pretend it never happened.”

Crystal held herself, tears spilling down her cheeks and she realized that she had been equally cowardly. Avoiding Tamarack for years, letting her feelings of betrayal eat away at her instead of confronting Tamarack in the first place. It could have diffused the situation and tension and opened the pathways to healing, and instead, she ran away and let the poison fester within.

“I’m sorry, Cris,” Tamarack said, her voice breaking as she wrapped Crystal in her arms, like they used to do as pups.

Crystal wasn’t ready to forgive her. The wounds were too deep. She knew that she would have to one day because they would both need it to move on from the mistakes of their past.

“I need to find my mate.” She sniffled, pulling away from Tamarack, and wiped the moisture from her cheeks. “He’s my future and I can’t screw this up.”

I can’t keep running away.

Tamarack wiped the tears from her cheeks as well and nodded. “Yeah, um, maybe we can catch up another time, huh? I shouldn’t have brought this up… You got your own problems to fix right now and I shouldn’t have dropped this on you too.”

Crystal shook her head, looking down at her bare feet. “It’s okay. Maybe it was time something was said.”

As good as it felt to get some of the pain off her chest, she could feel anxiety creeping in at the thought of more confrontation.

Tamarack nodded in agreement before she pointed to the cluster of trees beyond the pond. “I think he’s over there. I’ll wait here for you if he’s not and if you don’t come back a minute later, I’ll leave you two alone. I’ll let Gordon know not to disturb you too.”

Gordon was an older werewolf and must have also been on patrol in the gated land with Tamarack.

“Thanks,” Crystal said, wanting to disappear into thin air, but knew she had to do this.

She pointed her flashlight along her path around the pond and up to the trees. When she leaned her hand against a trunk and cast the light around the darkness, a growl rumbled from within the shadows. It wasn’t a threatening sound, but one of discontent.

She sucked in a breath and stepped forward.

A rustle.

The scrape of a claw over a rock.

An eye reflected in the light of her flashlight, half the face hidden behind the trunk of a tree ten yards ahead.

“Tiberius?” She stepped forward.

He huffed and turned away, walking a few more feet to the back of the grove.

“Tiberius, wait!” she called out and ran forward.

When she reached him, he was curled into a ball, his back to her, and holding himself.

Easing down to her knees, she set the flashlight on the ground and brushed her fingers through the fur of his back.

His throat rumbled, an indistinguishable sound between agitation and pleasure, before a long, low whine seeped out.

Her heart constricted at the sound of his heartbreak.

How could she have said that? After everything he had done for her, how could she be so cruel?

She dug her fingers deeper into his thick fur, massaging his back as she pressed her face against his neck.

“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice muffled. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. It was mean and thoughtless and I…”

She remembered Tamarack and her packmates turning their backs on her in junior high. The looks of disdain and pity on their faces. The name-calling, avoidance, and constant stream of self-deprecating thoughts that filled her head with never being good enough.

“I’m scared. I’m scared of getting hurt. I know you’re my mate and the last thing you want to do is hurt me… I know that, but…” Her voice caught in her throat as she fought back tears. “I don’t know how to stop it.”

She squeezed her eyes shut and inhaled and exhaled a shuddering breath. “I hate myself so much. All the time. The most hateful words fill my head and when I catch myself thinking that way, I feel even worse.

“And… I’m scared… to let you see that side of me. My ugly… hateful… unlovable… side.”

Her voice trailed off and she swallowed the lump forming in her throat.

“I need you. I need you and that scares me too because… maybe… you’ll come to hate me too. Maybe you’ll give up on me and I can’t bear that kind of heartbreak. But if I give up on you… I can keep living in my hateful little mind and keep telling myself that I wasn’t good enough and it was better I let you go because I…”

He sat up and she pulled back, wiping the tears from her cheeks before holding herself and looking down to the stream of light cast on the earth.

‘Not worthless,’ he wrote.

She closed her eyes as the tears began to form again. She barely choked out his name before his arms wrapped around her. Burying her face in his chest fur, she let the tears silently fall.

I don’t deserve you.

I don’t deserve you, but I want to be with you.

Please, don’t give up on me. On us. I want to try.

I want to become someone you can be proud to call your mate.

“I won’t give up, Tiberius. I promise.”

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