Over the River
Leo and I walked the muddy bank of a sizeable stream. The fast-running water made a pleasing trickling noise as it fell over the sloping creek bed. Water sprayed off the moonlit rocks providing a bit of relief from the warm, sweet-smelling wind.
Lights came into view as we rounded a turn coming out of the thick tree line. A small grouping of wooden buildings sat bathed in torchlight. Farther back in the relative darkness, the rooflines of basic, square dwellings lay quietly sleeping.
“That place looks promising.” Leo stretched out his ethereal form. I snickered quietly, picturing his body lying safe in the White.
My wet jeans dried in the heat, only to be soaked through with sweat. Dirt and grass from our escape stained every part of me. My hair looked like it belonged to a wet rat. With my scars visible, I imagined I looked like a dirty vagrant.
“You better go in, pretty boy. Nobody will want to help me.”
“Tell them your last name, and I bet a shower stall materializes in the corner,” Leo scoffed.
“I’d trade a shower for a double shot vanilla latte. I’m exhausted.”
Leo walked ahead, taking long strides. The first building from the road was brightly lit. His booming voice asking for direction to the MacTernan house echoed into the street. A woman wiping down the tables looked up, annoyed at his interruption.
“What business do you have with the MacTernan’s?” she asked curtly.
“I’m expected but lost my way,” Leo answered, flashing the poor woman his best smile.
The slender woman pulled at the back of her neck and let out a little sigh. “You’ve headed in the right direction. Keep on the road until you reach a tall, red gate.” Leo rushed out the door and pulled me down the road with him.
“What was that about?”
“Those two guys sitting by the window were looking at you like they wanted to eat you.”
“I’m full of demon blood. Otherwise, I’m a wolf just like you.”
“Not just like me. Explain the demon blood thing.” I recapped my time with Pax. Leo almost gagged when I described how much I liked biting his rubbery demon wings.
“I don’t know if that qualifies as kink or raunch.” Leo wrinkled his mouth in disgust. I grabbed his leather coat in my mouth and shook it like a dog. “There is something very wrong with you, Woman.”
“I know, but I’m not sure what to do about it. You are going to come back home once you heal?”
“That’s the plan.” Leo kicked at the path every so often as we walked toward Rafferty’s.
A black wolf ran toward us from the top of the road. Leo pulled me behind him and started to crouch down. All at once, the wolf transformed into a very white and naked man. Steam hovered around his body as he panted and caught his breath.
“Alerie, Dagen sent me to find you.” The man coughed and wheezed. I remembered him from Kates’s party but struggled to remember his name.
“Thanks for coming in to find me. I got yanked in through an old mirror.” I tried very hard not to look at the man’s dangling penis, but it was hard to miss, and my head only tilts up so far.
“Sorry, no clothes out here. I’m Bruce,” he panted.
“No, it’s to be expected, Man.” Leo found my embarrassment entertaining. I was used to seeing him running around naked, just not everyone else.
Bruce dropped into wolf form and led us to the gate outside Rafferty’s home. Rock walls lined with vining roses and fruit shrubs bordered the home. Inside the courtyard, several ponds marked the path to the front entry. It was well maintained and beautiful in a rugged, wild way.
My new father walked out of his home wearing gray pajama pants and an open robe. Bruce ran past Rafferty to a leather backpack situated by a garden bench. Leo and I both stood outside the entrance waiting to be invited in.
“My God, Alerie,” Rafferty laughed as he approached. “you look like you’ve been rolled in—your face, Sweetheart. What happened here?”
“Yeah, the scars look bad. The spell hiding them vanished when I went through the mirror.”
“Of course, I didn’t mean to make you self-conscious. It shocked me, is all.”
“My parents don’t know. I would appreciate keeping my hideous scarring a secret. I’ll ask my demon friend to hit me with another favor.”
“Favor? Is that what your demon called it?”
“Yes, and then Malou’s witch friend Bob sealed it with a spell. He saw me naked, so he was the best choice to recreate my skin.” Leo cocked his head sideways and crossed his arms.
“Bruce tells me you were with Dagen when you found the mirror.” Leo stood close, listening intently. “Leo, you are welcome to go inside and make yourself at home, my friend.”
“If it’s all the same to you, Sir. I would like to hear what Al has to say.”
“I was at Dagen’s. My apartment flooded, so I’m homeless at the moment. My parents got weird about me coming back home. I don’t think they like me dating Dagen. My internship starts in ten days. Staying with Dagen seemed like a good idea. Chris sent my things to his place along with the spelled mirror. She thought it was mine. It was in my bedroom.”
“Um, hmm. So Dagen invited you to stay with him. Why not stay at the compound. It’s your home. You’re never homeless.”
“I didn’t realize you would want me to stay at your home. I didn’t think to ask. Dagen already took care of everything. Plus, we’re reuniting Leo with his body in the White tomorrow. Where I was sleeping for a few days wasn’t important.”
“Of course, a good leader puts others before themselves. Let’s reunite Leo with his body tonight. Get it done since everyone’s already gathered.”
“Everyone?” I choked. I looked hideous.
“Yes, everyone.” My father’s tone was angry but controlled.
“You think I could clean up?” I tried running my fingers in my hair, but it wouldn’t budge. “borrow some clean clothes?”
Three women walked out of the house to greet us. They were all classically beautiful, wearing long flowing gemstone-colored gowns. Bruce walked up, holding a backpack of clothes, and smiled at the oldest woman, a redhead with long curls. She nodded politely at him before looking at me.
“Would you like to follow me? We can get you cleaned up before your friends arrive.”
“Alerie, this is Susanna, one of my friends. You can go with her.”
“Thank you both.” Leo and I both grabbed each other’s hands at the same time.
“Don’t worry. We are traveling by wolf. We’ll wait here for you.” Rafferty dismissed me with an angry finger flick.
Susanna led me into a bathroom and helped me pull off my dirty clothes. A black stone tub sat in the corner next to a firepit with a kettle of heating water.
“Don’t worry, the tub looks primitive, but it will do the job. Get in. I’ll go find you something clean to wear.”
“Are you my father’s wife?”
“No, your father doesn’t have a wife. But don’t worry. He’s not alone. I’ve known him for hundreds of years. You are his only child, though.”
“I didn’t know about him until I changed. I believed I was half-human until recently.”
“Yes, he told me you found the fourth angel and brought him back to the White.” Susanna appeared again with a black tank top and khaki-colored pants.
“Henry, he’s in the White. I need to take him back home so he can tie up his old life. I think he wants to stay in the White permanently.”
“You are not happy about this,” Susanna offered.
“No,” I held my head in my hands. The water in the small tub was hot and soothing, but my mind was ready to crack.
“Leo was trapped and sitting in the dirt, slitting his wrists and crying. I lost it and broke the mirror to help him. Henry’s safe and happy in the White, but he will expect me. When he comes home to wrap up his loose ends. Dagen doesn’t understand why I can’t choose only him.”
“Your father understands. He doesn’t want a tumultuous life for you. Relationships evolve and change Dagen is a big boy. He can wait for you to figure this out.”
“I want to keep Dagen, but I don’t know how to let Leo and Henry go.”
“You shouldn’t need to.” Susanna winked and handed me a square bar of homemade orange blossoms and clove soap.
I washed the mud out of my hair and treated it with a few drops of olive oil. I got dressed and braided my hair before walking back outside.
Dagen arrived, running up to me at full speed in wolf form, pushing me into an empty corner of the garden. Rafferty took Leo by the arm and led him and Bruce inside the house.
As Dagen transformed back into his human form, steam poured off his skin. His face a mask of worry and anger.
“How stupid are you?” He half growled still mid-change. “You could have died.” Dagen grabbed my shoulders and shook me. My bruised arm ached, but I didn’t protest. “The demon blood in your veins alone will get you hunted down like a fucking deer.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think about what would happen. I needed to help Leo.”
“Yes, Leo, I know. I’m so fucking tired of hearing about Leo.” I looked into Dagen’s eyes and saw his controlled anger cracking. I folded my hands in front of me so I didn’t accidentally touch him.
“I heard you before the mirror sucked me inside, but I couldn’t turn back.”
“We are going to get that kid back in his body and bring him here to heal. Then I’m going back to my life, Alerie. I don’t want to hear about Leo ever again.”
“I understand,” I said, looking down at the ground, trying to hide my face from him.
“What exactly do you understand?”
“I’ll send someone for my things. I’ll get out of your way, leave you alone.”
“That is not what I want.” Dagen squeezed his fists together. The veins in his neck popped to the surface.
“Consider what you want carefully before continuing to yell at me like a child, Dagen. When children outgrow their parents, they leave.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them, but I couldn’t take them back.
Dagen dropped back into wolf form and howled for the crew to follow him. Five wolves huddled around the front entrance as Rafferty and Bruce dropped to the ground hitting the grass in wolf form. Leo walked out last.
“Oh boy, he’s mad at you?” Leo raised his eyebrows.
“Yes, looks that way.”
“Don’t worry. We will find you a new full-blood to play with.”
“I don’t want a new one.” Leo slid his huge hand behind my head and kissed my cheek over my scar.
“You are my best friend, you are beautiful, and I love you. Stay here, so I know you’re safe, so I can concentrate.” Leo bent down, meeting his eyes with mine.
“Fine. Tell Henry. I’ll meet him tomorrow morning.” Leo nodded and smiled before dropping to the ground in wolf form and running after Rafferty and Dagen.