It’s been weeks. For me that the days were the same and the concept of time was lost in that room I was kept in, witnessing time pass by, is the greatest torture. Especially since all I do is count the days I haven’t seen him.
After that night, Iris came for me in the morning with a seriously pissed-off Rage and almost broke me with her worry. She never asked me what I was doing in the clubhouse, why I was in Wood’s room but she seemed worried I was lost to her again. My sweet Iris!
Those first days she refused to let me be alone and she forced all the Valkyries to drag me to brunches and shopping. But nothing worked and Iris knew that. And it pained me to see her so worried about me. She doesn’t work as much and she neglects Rage. I can’t let her do that to her life because of me.
“I was thinking,” I tell her as we are sitting in the living room. “I would like to go back to school.”
Iris’s face lights up.
“You always liked reading. We’ll have Stig arrange that.”
“I don’t want…” I panic upon thinking the gravity of what I asked.
“Tamie, you always dreamt of going to college. Now, you can do it.”
Perhaps a community college. I looked into the City College across the Bay.That would be so great. It would make Iris worry less about me and would equip me with some skill to finally pull my weight. And something to occupy my mind and not think about Wood all the time.
That thought tightens my heart. I tried to contact him, talk to him the first days. He said it, he opened up and I know he was telling the truth. He cares about me, he truly does and he was thinking about me as much as I was thinking about him. But he was like a ghost.
Magda told me that he started working with her and Ava and that he was taking up all the dangerous missions, the long hunts. He was burying himself away from me. He wanted me to stay away and made no attempt to contact me.
Maybe he was right. Maybe we were not good for each other. We lost control. I hurt him. He hurt me. We are too deep in our nightmares. Maybe he was right.
Only he wasn’t. The only thing I can do to stop thinking about him is look online for colleges, to study to cover the massive gaps I have in my education. And even that is not enough when darkness falls and I am on my own on my bed. He is there all the time.
“How about it, Tamie?” Iris asks a question I never caught.
Iris looks at me with those eyes I grew up with. She is pleading me to trust her and talk to her about everything. But I can’t. What is there to talk about?
“Tamie, remember our promise?”
I smile at the memory. It was a bad night. Our mother was in a foul mood and was fumbling for money to get her fix. She yelled at Iris for being useless. Iris was 5. Then she stormed out and didn’t come back all night. Leaving me with Iris crying. She has asked me what she did wrong and I kept my mouth shut not knowing what to tell her. I was 8. But Iris cried and asked if she was useless. I told her no. She didn’t believe me. And I made a pinky promise. A promise to never lie to her, always tell her the truth.
“I do, little flower."
“What’s going on? Is it... Is it Wood?"
My eyes widen and I let my mouth drop open. Iris raises her eyebrow and shrugs in a playful manner.
“I am not a kid anymore, Tamie,” she says. “Besides, Ava hinted something on the last day-off. Wood seems to be in the same mood you are, burying himself in work and jumps up each time someone mentions your name. Is there something going on?”
“Pinky promise, Tamie," Iris scolds.
I sit back on my chair and I let out a breath I was holding. I focus on my sister’s pretty face and those eyes that tell me she is really there for me. So I tell her everything. In a rated-g version anyway. Grown woman or not, Iris is still my baby sister.
“But it’s not going to happen,” I conclude to stop Iris from getting too excited as I see her face turn the more I talked. ”I can’t. Wood deserves more than me. Not a woman that was... used as I was. A woman that can’t even bear him children."
That is enough to wither the smile on her lips. She looks down at her arms but then she turns to me more determined.
"Daultrey whipped me bloody, hanging me from the ceiling. He let me heal and then started all over again," she says determined.
I stiffen at her admission and I feel the tears well in my eyes.
“When I escaped him, Ava found me and brought me here. A frightened shell of a girl, a shaking leaf barely holding it together, a scarred, broken body. I was alone, you were not there."
I throw my hand to hers and we hold on tight. I let the tears fall silently on my cheeks and I take her confession.
“And then I found Rage," she smiles as the thought of the man alone is enough to tear through the darkness of her past. “I found Rage and Rage found me and we healed each other. We still do. Had it not been for Rage, I would still be hanged and whipped over and over again, every day in my mind, in my nightmares. It was his love that truly freed me."
I nod in understanding. I have seen them together. Both broken, with the cracks still showing. They will always be showing. But with their pure love, they pour gold in those cracks and make them beautiful.
“You are still caged, my Tamie. Still kept there, by those men,” Iris’s voice breaks as she talks. “Wood found you and took you out but you left your soul back there. If you let him, he might free your soul as well. He is a good man."
I say nothing, just dive into the feeling his presence brought for me. That precious safety, the carefree stance. That need to be there for him too, there when the nightmares come and chase them away.
“Just saying,” Iris adds playfully. “Now, let’s call Stig.”
A whole month has gone by and it has been the most hectic month of my life. Stig did in fact set me up with a new identity. And since Rage has picked Hunter for Iris’s last name, I am now a Hunter too. Tamie Hunter. I love it.
I have no idea how he’s done it but he has set me up with fake school records and with enough credit to be admitted to City College in San Fransisco. It was overwhelming enough to go to school. I am older than I should be but I have been locked away for so long, I am practically a kid to those attending there. Will I fit in? Will I make it? Is this worth it?
Fear has gripped me and I barely slept that last month. My first and most basic instinct was to hide in my room and stay there. In a sickening sense, I would be glad to be locked up and never face the vastness of the world ever again. So much easier, so much less troubling. Stay in, head down, don’t challenge life.
But Iris and the rest of the Valkyries wouldn’t even let me think about it. Granted, Ava basically ordered me to – and I quote - “get my ass out there”, Lysa made me take some of her self-defense classes and Magda promised to “deal” with anyone bothering me. But Chiara was the one I had long talks over the academic possibilities, the one that guided me through what seemed to me like a maze of choices and the one that helped me reach to a decision.
But none was more supportive than Iris. She was there every step of the way, talking me with that sweet angelic voice of hers that is the balm to my wounds, pouring all her care into me. My little flower has managed to heal the Hellhound. She was bound to help me get on the path to healing myself.
Still, there was something missing. Through the haze of it all, there was a huge gap, one that could easily fill my fears and insecurities. That would disperse all my doubts and support me for real. Wood. How I longed for him to be there, to hear me out, to wipe my tears like he always does, to open those big arms and let me nest in them when fear of the unknown comes over me. But he remained elusive, always on a hunt, a mission, working and... avoiding me.
“Are you still mad for not letting you take the car?" Iris asksfrom right beside me.
“It’s OK,” I smile at her as she drives me over the bridge.
"No, it’s not OK, but you need more practice."
Iris has fixed a car they had laying in the garage for me. She wanted to buy me something and we had a huge argument that made Rage nervous and agitated. So, Iris settled down to fixing that car and making sure I can drive it. It still feels strange to have her take the role of the big sister.
That’s why I didn’t want her to give me the car. I need to stand on my own two feet soon. Get a job, find a place. Stuff normal people do. Cause I doubt normal people live with their baby sisters and their hunk of a man that seems to be triggered at the slightest notion of conflict and that has sliced a man to pieces as a welcome gift.
“You sure you don’t want me to come?”
“We’ve talked about it, Iris," I sigh. “You need to stop acting like my mother."
“Oh, Tamie,” Iris smiles, “I think I am acting nothing like our mother.”
I don’t know how but we both find the courage to laugh at this. It was always her and me anyway.
“True, but I need to do this alone."
“What time will you be off?”
“I will be taking the bus back.”
Iris frowns. I think that overprotectiveness Rage pours her with has rubbed off on her and I am her object of affection.
“I can ask Rage...”
“No!" I almost scream. “I am not riding in the back of your husband’s bike."
In the little time I have spent with the Riders and their Valkyries, I came to realize that this was a big deal. To have a woman in the back of your bike, was the ultimate sign of affection for the Riders.
I see it in her eyes. She is talking about Wood.
“NO!” This time I scream.
“I am sure that if you asked him, he would...”
“No, no, no.”
“Call me," Iris gives up. “The phone numbers are set in your phone."
“Yes, Mum,” I say and roll my eyes.
I get out and after a few seconds I hear the car go. And I am left there, outside the college, holding the backpack tightly in front of me. I get shivers and cold sweat runs down my spine. And suddenly I get the feeling that someone is watching me. I turn to look but I see no one. Just your nerves, I chastise myself like Ava would. Forth! I order and make for the door.