We arrived at my parent’s barbeque as the first guests were parking their cars. A few close family friends regularly arrive early to deliver deserts and help with the final food presentation. The smoker and grill were in full production mode, blanketing the long driveway in white puffy, meat scented clouds.
My sister and Will picked us up from the hotel. Henry sat in the passenger rear seat and rested his hand high on my thigh while Leo spread his arm out across the back window behind us.
Will didn’t say much he let my sister prattle on as she tends to do. Will was driving my sister’s car, which led me to assume Lila liked him quite a bit. Will smiled at me a few times in the rearview mirror as he scanned the backseat looking for hints about how we spent our morning.
“Will I need to change upstairs. Can you park close to the house?” Will tilted his head and wrinkled his brow. “I’m expected to wear a sundress and greet guests.” Lila pulled at the hem of her sundress and batted her eyelashes at Will.
Leo is like an older brother to Lila and couldn’t help but tease her. “Just don’t eat any mayonnaise sitting in the sunshine.”
“You are such an ass,” Lila scowled back at Leo. “I might as well tell you before he does.” She put her hand on Will’s arm. “This may shock you, but occasionally I need to poop. The year I turned nine, I ate some sketchy potato salad at our family party and couldn’t make it to the bathroom in time. We wore white sundresses for the last time that year, and no one has let me live it down.” The car erupted in laughter. “Seriously, it happened right there all over the edge of the stairway.”
Will laughed so hard his eyes were tearing. He pulled Lila’s forehead to his lips. “Oh no, you’re that sibling. Unfortunately, so am I.” Henry nodded in agreement.
I put my hand on top of Henry’s. “You’re welcome to come upstairs with me if you like. It should only take me a minute to change.”
Will parked by the house as requested and acted like he wanted to talk to Henry, but he let me keep him to follow Lila.
Leo’s mother arrived, parking her huge new truck next to the horse corral. Leo patted the top of the car twice before jogging over to meet his parents.
Lila led Will toward the main lawn where the guests were gathering. “They look adorable together,” I told Henry. “We’re close to the main stone stairs. There are six steps.” I grabbed Henry’s arm tightly and led him up the stairs.
“The house smells great, like Thanksgiving,” He commented, taking in a deep breath.
“It’s the potatoes and bread baking in the kitchen. Takes a ton of food for a Clan party.” We reached the bottom of the stairway leading upstairs.
Henry lowered his head, took his glasses off, and pinched the space between his eyes. “You don’t say werewolf, ever. It’s a werewolf party.”
“I suppose, but we don’t use the term openly. The stairs are wide, banister on your right, rail on the left.”
“Say it for me once. You are a werewolf, Alerie.” Henry’s tone turned combative. I couldn’t understand what triggered his foul mood.
“Just like you are an angel, Henry.”
“Say it for me once, please.”
“Fine werewolf. I am a type of werewolf. Not because I was bitten or cursed but because I was born. I’m also white and female, but I don’t hear you asking me to clarify those labels.” I opened my bedroom door and turned on the lights.
My mess from the day before was still strewn across my bed. I quickly picked up my clothes and makeup, revealing a clean space for Henry to sit.
“I don’t want your convoluted college speak for equality.” He laughed, plopping down on my squeaky mattress. “I want the facts. The bones for this house we’re building.”
“You want to build a house with me?” I asked playfully. The dress my mother picked for me was hanging on the backside of my door.
I dropped all my clothes in a pile on the floor and wriggled into fresh underwear before sliding the sundress over my head.
“I want everything with you, but you need to understand the things we can’t have.”
“like what? You—are—an—angel, for fuck sake. What can’t you have?” My hair was an un-styled mess. Letting it air dry was a bad choice. I found a brush and some clips and tried to salvage what I could.
“Honestly, I don’t know because here, and now I’m not an angel.”
“Here and now, I’m not a wolf,” I clarified, sweeping my hair into a messy bunch of loose curls.
“But you are. The physical benefits of that genetic fact are with you every moment of every day.”
“So, what is it you think we can’t have?”
“I can’t drive or cook a meal. I can’t really live in a two-story house without sliding down the stairs unintentionally or be a functional parent.”
“That’s absurd. You could help care for a child. Stupid people have children all the time.”
“Ha, very funny. It’s not the same thing. I can’t hold an infant without supervision or feed it or tell if there is something wrong with it.”
“I don’t want a child anytime soon. Let’s get that clear right now. But as an intellectual exercise, there must be challenges for blind parents. There are challenges for sighted parents. You don’t need to drive or cook or live in a two-story house. You just need to love me.” I slapped my hand over my mouth.
I didn’t mean to force him to say it back. I wasn’t thinking.
“I do love you,” Henry clarified quietly.
I was embarrassed to have said it to him the day before. It was too soon. The phrase has almost lost its meaning for me. I’ve said it too often to men I really didn’t love but wanted to try and keep.
I wrapped my arms around him. “Then, everything else will work out.”
“Life doesn’t work that way. You deserve to have a good, normal life with all the things a good life has to offer.”
“You deserve to have a good life too. When was my life ever going to be normal? I don’t even know what the word means anymore. Who wants normal, and why is normality the gold standard for everything?”
“I was all those things you listed in your dating rejects when we first met. Do you remember, no drug addicts, no musicians, no smokers?”
“Was is the keyword here. Was—not is. Your past helped shape you, but it’s not who you are today. What instrument do you play?”
“What?” Henry asked with confusion, furrowing his brow.
“What do you play? You mentioned drugs, smokers, and musicians. So, what do you play?”
“Well, I need to find one, so you can prove it to me.”
Henry dropped his head into his hands. “I don’t want to prove anything to you.”
“You must. Proving I’m crazy didn’t’ work. We found the demons remember. Proving me fucking Leo doesn’t bother you didn’t work out so well. I could see how much it bothered you to hear me with him.
“Now you want to prove what? I can’t have a happy life with you. I can prove I don’t deserve to have you in my life ten different ways, every God-damned day, but you can’t convince me you don’t deserve a life with me.” Henry ran his hand lightly over my upswept hair and across my face.
“While I was in the White, everything in the world made sense to me. It fit together like a million-piece puzzle only I knew how to solve. I’ve forgotten what that puzzle even looks like now.”
Henry got up off the bed and put his hand out to the wall. He felt along the top of my headboard and along the edge of the nightstand to the doorway.
“I can dream again. I dreamt about you standing naked in the White. My images were lost years ago. I didn’t dream anymore, but now. It’s all different. I’ve seen everything I’m missing.”
“Getting ready to fight in the Yolk, you asked me to leave all my beauty with you and assemble my monster. I did it without a second thought because you asked me to, not because an angel that looks and sounds like you asked me.”
“That wasn’t me. That guy has wings and knows everything there will ever be to know about the entire world.”
“Henry, the angel, is a killing machine that doesn’t crave a normal life or to drive or live in a two-story condo. Some part of me is the same—my wolf wants to kill demons. You’re afraid, and this thing between us is getting tough to manage.
“I want to tell you something that keeps you by my side and in my bed, but honestly, I want you to suck it up and go forward with me. I want you to realize everybody’s life is hard. I want you to try and live in this mess with me, and I want you to focus on what you want, not what you think I deserve.”
“All right, I want to go back inside the Yolk. I want you to move into my house and sleep in my bed every night, mostly so I know where you are, and I don’t have to wonder who you’re with.”
I thought about Leo and what moving into Henry’s place would mean to him. My silence said volumes.
“So too soon for a move to my place?”
“For a normal couple, yes, but we aren’t a normal couple. Can I move-in but not give up my place for a few months. Kate is staying with me, and I need to consider my parents. There’s a lease, and my father is painfully normal.”
“Things I didn’t consider. I would rather tell them the truth, but I’m just happy not to be the one lied to in this scenario. From now on, I don’t want any more secrets.”
“Well, then I was advised to recruit as many as I can to join us for our next trip through the White. A greater demon is hell-bent on killing me, and this second trip is called...”
“The Slaughter, “Henry interrupted. “yes, I’ve heard. Not very reassuring since you are the lamb.”
“No, not really. Should we go downstairs and smile at the guests. Try to convince some of them to follow me to their deaths.”
“Sure, after this, we should move into politics. I think the skillset would transfer straight across.” Henry ran his hands through his hair and tucked in his shirt. We went downstairs to gather votes.