Eggshells and Pine Needles
The day felt like a futile race against time. My time, Henry’s time, Dagen’s time were all connected. After shopping, I went back to Henry’s townhouse and cleaned. I ran the laundry, cleaned the kitchen and the bathrooms, and vacuumed the all the floors. It wasn’t enough. I couldn’t clean away the fact I wanted Henry to stay with me.
I texted several times throughout the day, letting Henry know where I was, what I was doing. He sent back replies. I’m fine so far, not sure how I ever did this all day. I can’t wait to leave. I asked Chris to send my resignation letter by courier.
It’s what I expected. One day back in the human meat grinder was all Henry could take. I didn’t blame him.
The story he chose to run with was the top-secret government job. A cheesy movie plot, but the scenario was cemented in the minds of most Americans. He hoped his parents wouldn’t question his new job’s vagueness if they thought it utilized his master’s in mathematics.
Working for an alphabet organization in an underground bunker where you’re only let out on occasion would explain his long absences. It would explain how eventually he and I would grow apart and why after a few years, they wouldn’t see me anymore.
The documents Chris produced sounded urgent. Henry was needed now. A two-week notice wouldn’t be possible. She texted me the highlights so I could prepare my corroborating lies.
I called Malou and told her my plan to bring Henry to the house to rest before I walked him back inside. She counseled me to stay positive. This path was set in motion long before I met him. Fighting fate would be useless.
We visited Gary at the gym and grabbed a bagel from the little shop next to campus. Henry opted for swordfish at a nice restaurant he liked downtown. We talked about his day and how he wasn’t the same anymore. The job Henry once loved seemed too trivial to waste time on anymore. He couldn’t live this way.
My day was spent in breathless moments between texts. Instead of sharing my anxiety, I detailed everything I accomplished while looking out the windows at the growing darkness of night. I felt profoundly cheated by the universe.
My seafood pasta was delicious, and so was the fresh bread. I focused on the tastes and textures. My fingers shook uncontrollably while I ate and listened to his voice, trying to commit the smoky tone and clear cadence to memory.
I was heartbroken. For the first time in a long time, something I wanted badly was slipping through my fingers.
Henry called his mother shortly after resigning from his position. His parents were driving out to see him for dessert and to hear about his new exciting job. I was thankful to have therapeutically cleaned the shit out of the house.
Dagen sent a text about needing to see me as the dinner check came taking my full attention. Henry asked the waiter to take his credit card. The man showed experience with blind patrons and quietly told Henry the amount owed. With the bill settled, we left with four slices of cheesecake to go.
Back at Henry’s place, the tone started off congratulatory. When he explained to his parents how long he might be gone, things turned south.
“Six months at a time. How could you possibly be away for that long?” Sally looked livid. She fumbled her plate of cheesecake to the coffee table with a loud crash.
“Mother, it’s what’s required. It’s important work.”
“I don’t care. You can’t go.” Kevin looked stunned. He put his hand on his wife’s arm and coaxed her into silence.
I walked from the kitchen with a cup of peppermint tea and put it in Henry’s hands. “Thank you, Sweetheart.”
“And what do you think of all this, Alerie?” Sally was trying unsuccessfully to control her temper.
“I begged him to stay, to come with me upstate, to take a year off, anything but go where I can’t see him. I offered everything I have but couldn’t change his mind.” Henry grabbed my hand and squeezed it tightly. “I’ll give you some time alone to talk him out of this stupid idea. Henry, I’m going to my gym to clear out my locker, assuming my padlock hasn’t been cut off already. I’ll be back soon. Text me if you need anything.”
I bent down into his ear and whispered. “I love you.” He squeezed my leg.
“You know I love you too?” I kissed him quickly and made my dramatic tear-filled exit. I didn’t need to fake my emotions. My opposition was silent for days. It felt good to let it out.
I drove to my gym, filled out the paperwork to cancel my membership, cleaned out my locker, and replied to Dagen. He agreed to meet me halfway in a big box store parking lot ten minutes away. My stomach tightened as I drove to meet him.
I didn’t know what I should say. I could easily stand next to his monogamous cage. I just couldn’t make myself walk inside.
Dagen’s suburban was parked in the corner of the lot when I arrived. He flashed his lights at me. I parked in front of him and got into his passenger seat.
“What you afraid I’m going to kidnap you? I could push that car out of the way.”
“No, it looks less like a drug deal if the cars aren’t parked side by side.”
“I suppose. First off, I want to know if you need anything like money or anything at all.”
“No but thank you for asking. I’m living out of that car, and I haven’t slept in the same bed for days, but I’m fine.”
“Tell me what’s going on with Henry. He called me today. Told me he was going back inside, and you would need my help.”
“He did? Give me one second.” I wasn’t surprised. I think leaving me with Dagen made Henry feel less guilty.
I sent a quick text to Henry. “You ok? Quick meet with D close by in parking lot.”
“Yep, they R still here,” he replied.
“K, tell me when it’s safe to come back.”
“So, Henry knows you’re here with me?” asked Dagen tossing his hands in surprise.
“We have a no lies policy.” I smiled at Dagen and watched his face change.
“And you keep a no sharing policy with me?”
“I don’t want to know about your other women.”
“How do you keep all this shit straight. Would it surprise you that I don’t see other women since I met you?”
“I didn’t ask you to do that,” I clarified.
Dagen rubbed his forehead. “You didn’t need to ask. I choose to see only you. I’m curious what rules does Leo live by?”
“None. Leo knows about everything in my life. I know about everything in his.” Dagen stared at me, blankly. “I’m driving to my father’s in the morning. Henry needs to go back inside. He can’t even sleep. I plan to spend a few hours in the Grove before heading upstate to look for a place.
“I’m focusing on my internship and finishing my degree. Less than a month ago, I was living a simple life with a defined purpose. I knew who I was and what I was working towards. I’m tired of living out of a duffle bag and walking on eggshells wondering what is going to upset you next.”
“Let me rent a nice place for you.” I put my hand up.
“No, thanks.” I shook my head. “I’ve seen firsthand how well that works out for me.”
“Where does all this leave us?”
“I’ve been thinking about us a lot. If you want to start over. I’ll take the spot offered in Fort Drum instead of Webb and try to find an apartment close to Watertown. The airport we stopped at a few weeks back looked nice.”
“They should have a common hanger where I can rent a space.” Dagen appeared to calm down.
“I won’t date anyone new,” I offered quietly.
“Jesus, I never considered you would.”
“What bothers you? Is it because they’re men? If I found a woman, would that still bother you?”
“You fucking other people makes me crazy.” Dagen tightened his grip on the steering wheel and exhaled loudly.
“I can work on that, but I won’t cut Leo out of my life. I’m Henry’s personal guard when he’s human, and he’s mine when I’m in the Yolk. I won’t abandon him.”
“Why would you stop sleeping with either of them?”
“Because I’ve seen a tiny glimpse of our future together, and I can’t give it up, but most of all because I want you.”
Dagen sat quietly. He looked like he was controlling his breathing. I moved to open my door. He pushed the button to lock it.
I took a deep breath. “I can try to leave you alone if that’s what you need.”
“No, that’s not what I need,” he muttered.
“This is the compromise I can offer. I won’t see anyone new. I’ll take a job that’s easier to travel to, and I’ll work on dialing down my physical relationship with Leo. Henry’s back in the White tomorrow. Besides, he thinks you are taking care of me for him.”
“I’m here for you. I don’t give a fuck about Henry. Do you miss me when we are apart?”
“That’s good. Do you think about me when you’re in bed at night?”
“Even when I’m not alone.”
“Then why can’t you stay with me? Just me, not everyone else.”
I couldn’t think of an answer, and the harder I tried, the less I could breathe.
“I need air. Please let me out.” Dagen unlocked the car door. I stumbled out and leaned on the back-passenger door.
“Are you okay?” Dagen grabbed my shoulders and scanned my face.
“So much has happened in the last few days, and there’s nobody I can talk to. I would tell Leo, but I can’t now.”
“Tell me. I don’t care what it is, just tell me everything.” Dagen stood back with his arms crossed, and his posture squared.
I took a deep breath of cool night air and told Dagen everything that happened since coming home from the Grove.
“And then I ruined the screen protector by dropping it on the carpet, sticky side down.”
“Having a demon sift through your memories while you sleep is probably the most concerning part of your adventures. I can follow up on the police report.”
“I was going to ask Chris. But when I die, Pax needs my ashes to swap for his right hand. He used it as payment when he resurrected me.”
“Of course, he does.” Dagen groaned. “I’ll make arrangements.” Pine needles crushed beneath our feet as we moved together.
Resting my head on his shoulder, his warmth radiated through me. My wolf stirred, pushing herself toward his. I wanted to bite him and taste his skin. I needed his magic blood.
He kissed me, crushing his rigid body into mine. Dagen was who I craved. Someday I need to learn to want what I need.