The townhouse sat just as we left it. Chris sent a crew to clean and close up the property. The kitchen was sanitized of all food and cleaned to the point of looking new. It was five o’clock, and with only tap water available in the house, I took Henry to the grocery store.
“This is a very human thing to do on my first day back.” Henry followed alongside me with his hand on the small of my back as we pushed a small grocery cart around the store.
“Sorry, I didn’t know the company mothballed your place. I didn’t even see any coffee filters.” I grabbed a few essentials for breakfast and snacks. “Anything you’ve been missing?”
“Bananas, chocolate ice cream, and egg rolls,” he said, surprised.
“Eggrolls? The shop near my old apartment makes really great eggrolls and those fried little dumplings. I love those.”
“Yeah, there was a water leak, ruined the first floor. I’m staying at my new father’s place. About an hour upstate from the portal.”
“So, your place flooded, forcing you to move all your stuff, and then you were trapped under a Grove tree through a mirror spelled by a witch?”
“Yeah.” I placed a bunch of bananas in the cart and walked toward the frozen food section.
“I bet the witch flooded your place to force you to move.” A nosey fellow patron looked Henry and I up and down.
“Chris said the mirror was in my room by the bathroom door when she packed up my place.”
“How much can we trust Chris?” Henry asked.
“I don’t think Chris is the problem. She’s a demon, but she works for Rafferty and Emma sort of vouched for her.”
“How much do you trust Rafferty?”
“I guess I don’t know. I basically left Leo in his care. It’s not like my mother knew him. I was the product of a Blending Ceremony,” I whispered.
“You should come back with me. I can protect you from these sketchy people in the White. What does Dagen think about all this?”
“Dagen? Not sure I can rely on him anymore.” We reached the checkout. I patted Henry on the hand, letting him know to change the subject.
“How about you know who?” Henry made air horns above his head. The guy at the register snickered. “What does he think about all this?”
“He only found out yesterday. Several people are looking for answers.”
“Do they all qualify as people?” Henry ran his hand through his hair. “I’m disappointed with Dagen. I expected him to be more useful.” I led Henry out to the car and pulled a banana from the bunch.
“Eat some fruit, here’s a banana.” Henry snapped the top of the banana, peeled it, and took a bite.
“Mmm, best damn banana I’ve ever eaten.”
We stopped for eggrolls and potstickers before heading home. I put away the groceries while Henry sat in the living room, snacking and listening to his email.
A text buzzed my phone from a new number.
“Al, this is Meyer my guitar recital at Arsenal Yards is tonight. I go on at eight. Hope you can come.”
I replied. “I’ll see what I can do, Sweetie. Good Luck!”
“Who’s that? Did they find the witch?”
“Nope, nobody found the witch yet. Dagen’s adopted son Meyer sent the message. We met recently. He has a guitar recital tonight, wants me to go watch.”
“You should go. Those things are usually short, and maybe you can start to patch things up with Dagen. Then you can come back and have ice cream in bed with me.”
“What are you going to do while I’m gone?”
“I’ll be busy with emails for hours. I plan to sit on the toilet with the door open and listen to the news, maybe jerk off for a few minutes, you know, just stuff.”
“Oh my God, okay, I’ll leave. You can do all that with me here.”
“Nah, it’s not the same. Al, I like Dagen. He’s good in battle. I think he truly cares for you, and you need a pureblood.”
“It’s a half-hour away down Morton street.”
“See easy, couple hours, and maybe you mend some fences.”
I tossed an old, bohemian style dress I brought from home in the dryer with my faded jean jacket. The bodice was smocked and form-fitting, dark blue, with a high side slit and little hot pink embroidered flowers scattered on the skirt. I didn’t want my outfit to look too staged, but I wanted Dagen to notice me in the crowd.
Meyer confidently walked on stage with his acoustic guitar after a cute little girl finished with her cello. His tall, confident frame reminded me of a young Leo. He played a classical song I didn’t recognize, but he played it well.
I waived to him when he was on stage. I didn’t see Dagen in the crowd, and I was suddenly thankful I made it in time to support the child. Some parents in the crowd moved from the stage as their children finished revealing more of the stage.
Dagen stood in the front row next to several of his grown sons with his arm around the shoulders of a polished looking middle-aged woman. A lump of grief gathered in my throat. I swallowed it down and took a deep breath.
When Meyer’s three songs were over, he hopped off the stage and walked straight toward me. Dagen turned to talk to Meyer, finally noticing me.
Dagen’s arm fell off the woman. He straightened his shirt and made a few comments to his group.
“Meyer, that sounded perfect. I didn’t know you played so well.” Meyer hugged me lightly.
“Thanks for coming to watch me. I didn’t know if you would make it. Dad said you were upstate.”
“I drove back to Milton today. He doesn’t know you invited me, does he?”
“No, but I got your number off his phone.”
“I’m glad you did. Thanks for inviting me. I should go before I get Dagen in trouble with his date.” I hugged Meyer and turned away to leave.
“She’s not my date,” Dagen yelled after me. I waited for him to catch up to me. Meyer looked concerned.
“You can have a date. I think way too highly of you to play this date-no-date game with you. Sorry to drop in unannounced. I thought you asked Meyer to invite me.”
“I’m glad you’re here. Come back to the house with us. We’re celebrating Meyer’s accomplishment.”
“You can’t possibly think that’s a good idea. Oh, of course, I’m sorry. I could take some boxes of my stuff out of your way. Three boxes should fit in—”
“No, stop. Why isn’t it a good idea?”
“Bruce told me we don’t speak the same language, and you ghosted me. I know what that means. We’re done. I get it.”
“No, you don’t. I listened to other people’s stupid advice. I don’t want us to be done.”
“People take breaks to let somebody down easy. I don’t need you to caudle me.” I crossed my arms, smashing my keys into my arms. “I feel pretty stupid right now. Can I take a rain check on the box removal?”
“You don’t need to remove your stuff from my house. We need time to talk.” He was getting loud. I made myself step closer to hide our conversation. I could smell his cologne heated by his mint-scented skin, and I could barely think straight.
“I make your life difficult. I don’t want to hurt you anymore.”
“Alerie,” he whispered, lightly grabbing my arm. “Come to the house,” Dagen pleaded.
“I don’t know your birthday or your favorite dinner or if you like movies or novels. I know what my wolf knows. The sound of your heartbeat, the feel of your skin on mine, and the way you breathe my name right before you finish. Maybe we skipped too much to be anything more to each other than that.”
Dagen looked like I knocked the wind out of him. “We can rethink everything we skipped over.”
“I would like that.” Looking up, I saw the group of people waiting for Dagen. “Your non-date looks pretty worried. You should get back to them.” I turned to walk toward my car. Dagen grabbed my arm, spinning me toward him. He kissed me hard, bruising my lips. I slipped my arms around him.
“She’s not my date.”
“Okay.” I shook my head slowly. “Is she your wife?”
“No, I’m not married. Come to the house.”
“Fine, but I can’t stay long.”
“I can work with that. Give me your keys, somebody will drive your car. I want you to ride back with me.” I handed over the keys to my car. I kept thinking of Bruce’s advice and Malou’s prophesy. If I wanted things to change, now was the moment to say yes.
“It’s from my father’s garage.” He looked confused.
“Rafferty’s garage. It’s a blue Chevy four-door. In the parking lot in front of the ice cream shop.” Dagen put out his hand to me. I took it and was led to his waiting family. Meyer looked anxious. Dagen patted him on the back and messed up his golden hair.
My keys were handed off to one of Dagen’s sons. He walked away with a little smile. Dagen put his arm around the back of my neck and led me toward his SUV. He opened my door and coaxed me inside. Slamming my door behind me. Everyone else walked toward their cars while glancing back at us.
Dagen sat behind the wheel in silence. “Alerie, I need you to tell me what you want from me.”
“I need to know what you want because I can’t tell on my own.”
“I don’t want you to ignore me or shut me out for days on end.” Dagen sighed and rested his head on the steering wheel.
“Fine,” I huffed. “I want you. I want to know all about your life. I want to be in love again. I want to rely on you. I want you to show me how to be what you need. Someday I want your name, and I want you to live as long as I do. But I can’t have those things if you cut me out completely.”
“In love again?” he asked.
“Yes,” I rubbed around my eyes. “Now, tell me what you want from me.”
Dagen started the car and looked around carefully before pulling into traffic. We drove for a few minutes in silence. I rested my chin in my hand and stared out the window.
“I want to start over, so we don’t skip anything. I want you all to myself. I won’t live as long as you, but everything else I promise I’ll give you.”
I could see the Dagen I first met sitting next to me. The youth he gained before our last trip into the White faded. I laid my hand on the center console. He put his hand on top of mine and laced his fingers between mine.
“When I was in the Grove, I transformed into a wolf, but my fur looked like grape cotton candy, but it didn’t taste like anything.”
“But you’re spectral. Purple? You tasted your fur?”
“Hereditary traits are strange. The demon blood made changing more interesting looking.”
“We can run together in the Grove now.” I winked. Dagen just shook his head.
“Maybe after your fur changes back to white.”