Iris is still looking at me with disbelief. It’s natural. I practically came back from the dead.
“He... He said you were dead,” a tear runs down her cheek. “He told me you were dead.”
“I am not, little flower,” I feel tears of my own.
Iris is the first to break free of our bonds that bind us. She closes the distance between us and she wraps her arms around me. Her warmth and her scent are bringing memories back. This is my Iris, my sweet, sweet Iris. I return the hug and for a while we just stand there, in that warm embrace, the one thing I dreamt of all these years, the one thing I longed for.
“You are alive!” Iris repeats, tightening the hug. “You are here!”
I say nothing, the lump in my throat is blocking my speech but I caress her hair and after a while I push her slightly away to look upon her. She has grown, my Iris. She is not a girl anymore, she is a woman.
“Look at you, little flower,” I smile at her.
She caresses my face and more tears run. I wipe them away and I keep looking at her. I can’t get enough of that sight. My sister is alive and well and happy.
“Where were you?”
She asked the one question I dreaded. The one thing I don’t want to talk about. The thorn in my heart. My smile drops and I swallow hard.
“It’s been a long couple of days,” Wood says behind me.
I look over my shoulder to him and he gives me reassuring nod. He has seen where I was held all these years and he knows the fear that has found its way in my heart. I give him a soft smile and his eyes glint. He is still there to save me.
“Maybe Tamie can rest for a while,” Wood turns to Iris. “You’ll have all the time in the world to talk.”
Iris looks at Wood and then back at me. She caresses my cheek one more time and then leaves my arms and walks to Wood. She stands before him, a tiny girl before a tall, bulky man. Yet, he is the one nervous.
“You did this?” Iris asks and Wood looks at me. “You brought my sister back to me?”
Wood does what he does when he is awkward or cornered. He runs his hand through his beard and then rubs the back of his neck.
“Yes,” I answer for him. “He is the one that found me.”
Iris looks at me and then goes back to Wood.
“That’s the job you had and took Rage with you?”
“Rage knew? No wonder he was so on edge and agitated. He doesn’t like lying to me,” Iris says.
“I asked him to keep it a secret till Tamie was safely back,” Wood replies.
Iris was always clever.
“Like I said, Iris,” Wood’s voice is soft as he talks to my sister, “plenty of time to talk about it.”
Iris nods and then she ambushes Wood by wrapping her arms around his waist and lying her head on his chest. Wood looks down at her almost in shock and then awkwardly returns the embrace.
“Thank you. Thank you so so much,” Iris whispers again and again.
But this scene is interrupted by a low, threatening growl coming from the door. We all turn and Rage is standing there, his legs in a wide stance, his hands in fists and his fierce look on Wood.
I almost didn’t recognize the man without all that blood covering him but my assumption that he looks like an angel hasn’t changed. His blonde hair fall in his face, trying in vain to hide his baby blue eyes. His golden beard crowns a pair of perfect lips that are in a tight line in anger. Only his body disrupts the image of an angel. There is no way an angel would ever be such a tattooed, ripped hulk.
“Get your hands off her!” Rage seethes.
“Rage!” Iris lets go of Wood and runs to Rage.
The dangerous man retracts his eyes from Wood and focuses on Iris while my whole body coils. If he dares touch her... But as his eyes land on Iris, his look changes, turns gentler and his lips smile. Iris jumps up to him and he is there to catch her, pulling her to his body and he instantly buries his nose in the crook of her neck. He inhales deeply while Iris twines her arms around his neck.
And then Iris cups the man’s face with both hands and molds her lips on his. His one hand keep on steadying her while the other goes to the nape of her neck and he deepens the kiss with a passion that is making me blush.
I look away and instinctively my eyes fall on Wood. His eyelids are heavy, he is glancing down at my lips and he wakes memories in me. Memories of that one, desperate kiss we shared come over me and the blushing deepens.
“Did you know, Rage?” Iris asks excitedly.
Rage puts her down gently but doesn’t let her out of his arms. He simply nods and looks at Wood as if asking for answers. Wood nods again, messing his beard. Damn that beard! I want to feel it.
“Wood found her,” Rage says. “I helped.”
Thinking exactly how Rage “helped” I get shivers. Does my sister know of the monster that hides underneath that radiant man that looks at her with such adoration? Though, as I study him around her, the tender way he touches her, the soft look on his face, I don’t think he is the same man around her.
I sigh in relief. My protective instinct tells me that Wood was telling the truth when he told me Rage loves Iris more than his own life. I see it clearly on the way his eyes roam her body as if making sure the girl in his arms is OK.
We’ve been through a lot me and her, a lot must have happened to her that I don’t know and a lot happened to me that she doesn’t. We never had anyone to fend for us, to defend us, to protect us. But my sister found her protector in the baby blue eyes of that fierce man. As for me...
My eyes drift to Wood that has his look on me, his head thrown slightly down as he regards me behind his thick lashes. It is ravishing and ravenous that look as if he would like nothing less than come over and hide me from everyone. His thick arms tighten and I remember how they felt last night around me, when I felt safe, safe enough to finally sleep.
“You are coming with us, Tamie,” Iris interrupts all thoughts as she comes back to me and cozies in my arms like she used to do. “You are coming in our house and you are staying with us. We will figure this out.”
I smile at my sister and I chuckle at how things have changed. Now she is the one protecting me, taking care of me. She is the strong one. And I am so proud. And so lost.
I glance behind me at Rage and he has his eyes pinned on Iris. I don’t know if he wants me there but his expression tells me that he would rather die than say no to Iris. For a scary man he seems to be utterly whipped by my little sister.
“Bjorn, I am taking the day off,” Iris turns to the man in the garage.
“Sure thing, kid. Take as much time as you want.”
Iris smiles at the big man and I look at all of them in the garage. Wood seems protective of her and Bjorn treats her like a big brother. And I am not even going to comment on Rage and his fixation over her. All our lives, men were a threat, an enemy. But Iris found a haven, a place where men could be friends, protectors, lovers.
“Let’s go back home! You got things here? Rage can pick them up and bring them after he is done.”
I turn to Rage and he nods. That human-slicing machine will be bringing my clothes. OK, Iris has managed quite a feat. I have no time to contemplate on things cause an over enthusiastic Iris grabs my hand and guides me to a car.
And what a car that is! An Eleanor Shelby. I look up to her and she smiles widely. She loved that car as we grew up. One of our mother’s “friends” drove it outside our squalid house and she would stare at it for hours.
“Is that...?” I ask.
“Rage got it for me,” her smile goes even wider and her eyes drift to the man in question that watches her like a hawk.
“It’s a long story, Tamie. Let’s go home.”
Let’s go home. Where is home for me? Iris is enthusiastic but where she is taking me is her home, her home with the man she chose, the man she loves. That is her haven, her place. Not mine. All I had all these years were bare, windowless rooms and filthy beds. I don’t have a place.
And right when that thought pierces through my heart and mind, I think of a room, a room I stayed so little yet it meant so much. A room with a tall bed and clean bedsheets, a room with only a TV on the walls. A room filled with the essence of a man so alone. And my eyes go to Wood that is standing right next to Rage, with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders slumped. And those dark, haunting eyes on me. Last night, in his arms, it felt like home.
“Come on! Hop in!” Iris prompts.
Before I get in the car, I walk up to Wood and I see him swallow hard. I stand before him not knowing what to do or what to say. What do you say to the man that saved you? To the only man that makes you feel safe? To the man that gave the only real kiss in your life.
"Thank you," is all I can think of.
Wood says nothing, just smiles at me and my heart tightens. I am back, with my sister and yet all I want right now is to stay with him.
"See you around, Tamie," Wood breaks that long silence between us.
I give him a strained smile and I get in the car with Iris. While we drive away, I can't help but look back to him, standing in the middle of the street, watching the car go.