Wolf's Lullaby

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In to the thick of it

TARA

I went to my room the moment Philip dropped me off at home and immediately threw myself on the bed.

I squealed into the pillow, stomach fluttering with the most cliché, most gaudy and flamboyant of butterflies.

Yep, I did that. Apparently, I was that girl. A squealer.

All with the ridiculous rolling around and leg kicking action on the bed.

If I had no ears, I think I might have been grinning in circles.

I traced my fingertips over my lips, pulse matching the fluttering of those butterflies as I remembered how many times his lips pressed against mine today. Smooth, full, sweet.

How with each kiss, each glide of his mouth on mine, the mingling of our shared breaths, there was this pull, this craving. A want, growing, intoxicating... It rippled, burning through every fiber of my being.

Closer.

Wanting more.

More of that connection, more of him.

Thrilling, exhilarating, yet… terrifying. But before I could reminisce more or analyze the emotions I experienced, a knock sounded at my door and Mina opened it, peering inside.

“Hey T, got a minute?” She asked, shifting her weight, her grip on the doorknob tight.

“Sure, get in.” I waved her in, getting to a sitting position, folding my legs under me.

She closed the door behind her and sat on the bed, bringing her legs up to her chin, hugging them to her. She stared at the colorful designs on my comforter. And we sat like that in silence, that strain, the tension shoving its way between us, getting all cozy before Mina spoke, “I hate this…” she breathed, lifting her eyes to mine. “Us having this oppressive heaviness between us….”

“Yeah, me too. Minmin I’m so…”

“No, I’m sorry.” She interjected, raising her hand to stop me. “You were right. I… I’m still figuring stuff out… Daniel and I… we broke up.” Oh… I scooted closer, wrapping my arms around her, kissing the top of her head.

“Are you ok? What happened?”

“We had a fight… At Max’s party last Saturday.” Oh… I knew something was wrong. That night when she got home and slammed the door of her room, I thought I heard her cry. But she insisted she was fine, and to give her space. So I did…

“He made plans with his friends for us to go to Sam’s parents’ vacation cabin for the weekend, not consulting me... And I got pissed. He should have asked me?! So we fought, and I had enough… I feel bad. So, so bad. I used him T… I like him, but… I don’t want HIM…” A sob escaped her at the confession that fell from her lips. Surprised, scared, as she let herself finally face her own emotions. And she was spinning, spiraling. Her shoulders shook as she choked down the sobs one after the other. She looked so small, so vulnerable… I wasn’t used to seeing her this… broken...

“Hey, hey… Minmin it’s okay.” I cupped her cheeks, making her lift her eyes to me, wiping the tears away with my thumbs. “You did nothing wrong, sweetie. Daniel was an ass for doing that without talking to you first.” He was an ass all along, but now was not the time to point it out.

She shook her head, “But I deceived him T. I was horrible to him and he was sweet to me... and… I feel bad.” Eh… I think you dodged a bullet, though you can’t see it now. What the hell did he feed her? What kind of shit did he tell her, for her to think this way? I want to skewer him!!!

“You didn’t deceive him, Mina. You liked him… It wasn’t enough. It didn’t work out, and that’s okay. You love someone else… It’s not like you can control that. The heart wants what the heart wants, right?”

“T, I hurt him too. Ivan… I didn’t tell you about him, because… I felt stupid and embarrassed for falling for a guy so out of my league. I pushed him away to protect myself… And now it’s done… That door closed. I fucking suck.” She sniffled, wiping tears with the heel of her palm.

“Mina, he isn’t out of your league. Don’t undervalue yourself like that, ever. And we both know Ivan. You more than anyone. Ivan isn’t a shallow person. He knows YOU. He sees YOU.” I took a deep breath. Really wishing to tell her, to confirm that the door she was talking about wasn’t closed. Not in the slightest. She but had to knock on it and it would go off its hinges. But... It wasn’t my tea to spill, so… “He gets back sometime next week, and you two are gonna sit down and have a long overdue talk. Put all your cards on the table. Then go from there. Come what may, okay?” She visibly paled, but slowly nodded her head, aware that she really needed to do it, or she’ll never move on. Never rid herself of guilt, of regret.

“It’s gonna be okay.” I reassured her, smiling.

Still nodding, she said, “I’m gonna be sick.”

“Breathe… It’s gonna be fine, trust me. Omm…” I mimicked the meditation pose, breathing in and out.

“You mean vomm… I’m gonna puke.” I laughed as she took gulps of air to stave off a wave of panic that washed over her. Letting a breath loose, she looked at me, voice timid, shaky, “I’m really sorry T. Are we gonna be okay now?”

I smiled wide, hugging her, “I’m sorry too for yelling. And of course we are you loon!” I smoothed my hand over her hair as I pulled back. “Mina, you are my best friend. My soul sister. There is nothing you could do to make me love you less.” Something flickered across her features, and she averted her eyes, biting her lip as she picked at her nails. “You sure, T? Even if I…” Her voice broke, and she bit on her lower lip harder, hiding her face in her palms, shoulders shaking.

“Mina, what’s wrong?!” Worried, panicked, I tried to pry her hands off her face, but she moved out of my way, falling on her side, assuming a fetal position on my bed.

“I took them!”

“You took what?” I asked, now confused.

“Your purple fuzzy bunny socks… Your favorite ones.” She peered at me through her fingers, gauging my reaction. Slowly, I sneaked my fingers over my comforter towards the stack of pillows behind me.

“Oh, no you didn’t… You broke the sock code. You know what this means, Mina? It was the war you wanted, and the war you’ll get!” I announced theatrically, smacking her with the pillow, and she started giggling, begging for mercy.

Her phone ringing stopped my feathery assault, and she fished it out of her pocket, looking at the screen, frowning. She turned it off, tossing it on the bed face down.

“Everything ok?” I asked just as the phone started buzzing again. “Yeah, it’s nothing. Not important.” She shrugged, giving me a tight smile. And before I could start asking more about it, as it didn’t seem right to me, she changed the subject. “Anyway, where have you been all day?”

Suddenly, I was all nerves. Well, poopsicle. I gulped. “Um… I was at the library, then went to Philip’s place.” I swear her eyebrows almost rocketed to the stratosphere, eyes bulging out like Stanley Ipkiss’ while wearing the Mask, jaw unhinged.

“Yeah… Um… As of today we are a couple, dating… An item… Um… he’s my boyfriend… For like real, not just a rumor.” Boyfriend. I loved the sound of that, but the title made my face flame as I laughed nervously, fiddling with the hem of my shirt, pinching my comforter.

Mina gaped at me, opening and closing her mouth, “T... Um..” I stopped her, “I like him, Mina. I want to give this a go. So, I know you aren’t thrilled, but please give him a chance, okay?” She looked ready to argue. Even took a deep breath, but after a moment she sighed, resigned, clumping her mouth shut. “Okay.” She didn’t look pleased, but at least she agreed.

In the morning, Philip picked me up for school. My heart beat so fast, slamming against the confines of my rib-cage. Embarrassed, he’ll be able to hear it as he leaned in to kiss me, and I held my breath as his face came closer. But I guess he, too, was nervous. As the tips of his ears turned pink, it seemed he couldn’t decide between my cheek or mouth, so he chose the golden middle, brushing the corner of my lips with his. Face red, he pulled back, scratching the back of his head as he told me to hop into his Jeep.

When we got to school, I got a sense that people stared at us. Not that they hadn’t seen us together before, but somehow now their gazes seemed to sear through us. Or it was just me being extra self-conscious, nerves getting the best of my awkward ass. Probably the latter. But as the warmth of his hand slipped into mine, our fingers entwined, everything else fell away. Everyone turned into squiggly looking stick figures. Unimportant. Forgotten. And it was only us in our little bubble. A pocket of the world of our own.

After school, Philip wanted to show me something. So we ended up going down to the abandoned railway that cut through the forest.

It was fascinating, really. Utterly beautiful.

In the warm light of a sunny day, already nearing its end as the waning sunlight streaked through the crowns of green lush trees, stood a lonely track. Corroded over time, the wooden sleepers, dilapidated, overrun by green grass. Peppered by tiny wildflowers that bloomed from the cracks in the wood as nature took over what once was hers.

Philip held my hand as I balanced walking over one rail, gaze intent on me. “I won’t fall, you know. You don’t have to watch me like a hawk.”

He snorted. “I saw you wobble and trip on flat surfaces. This is like a circus performance for you, Shrimp.”

I laughed. “Touche.” And just to make his point that much clear I lost my balance. He was fast to move in front of me, his free hand snaking around my waist to steady me, bringing me flush against him. “See.” He said, amused.

I craned my neck to look at him, smiling as I met his eyes that seemed a deeper shade of green, matching the surrounding forest.

“Hi.” I breathed out, my free hand clutching his arm, and he smiled. The hand on my waist held me tighter. His warmth seeped into me through each point where we connected, making my pulse beat wilder, as we stood there gazing at each other.

The touch.

I noticed throughout the day that we couldn’t help ourselves. Somehow, we always ended up close to each other. Like magnets. Gravity. A pull of a black hole. Whatever you want to call it. It was there. That need for the simplest, smallest of touches. Maybe the two of us were a barnacle couple in our past lives. And I had no qualms with that. In fact, I was quite pleased with the idea.

He moved to the side. I immediately felt colder, though he hadn’t let go of my hand. “Great reflexes, Crabby Pants. You do any ninja martial art stuff? Wanna be my bodyguard? The spot is open, I’m hiring.” I joked, wiggling my brows as I stepped in front of him.

He chuckled, leaning in, gently flicking my forehead, “Nah, seems like a very troublesome job. And no, I don’t do ninja stuff. You just can’t imagine coordinated people, Shrimp.” He smirked, kissing the tip of my nose before he walked past me.

“Ah… True... By the way, where are we going?” I asked, following behind him, grinning like an idiot as soon as I restarted my brain and heart.

He stopped, turning around to wait for me, tips of his ears tinged pink as he reached out his hand palm up, for me to place mine in. “You’ll see. There is a path up the hillside.” He squinted at me, pondering something, biting and pulling on the inside of his piercings. “I should probably carry you. It’s very steep and I worry you’ll sprain an ankle.” I opened my mouth to protest in outrage, but then realized he had a solid point. “Yeah, okay.” He lowered himself tapping his shoulder, “Hop on.”

“Woo-hoo, piggy back ride!” I beamed as I jumped on his back a bit too enthusiastically, choking him slightly. “Oops sorry.”

He grunted, wrapping his arms under my knees, holding me in place. I felt his back muscles tense, and he abruptly twisted to look behind.

“What’s wrong? Are you okay? Did I squeeze your neck too much?”

“No, it’s fine. I’m fine…. It’s nothing.” Distracted, he scanned the perimeter for a few beats. Though he said it was nothing, his silence sow a seed of fear in me.

We were in the woods. You know what lives in the woods? Wild animals do. The memory of that stormy night, pierced by howling, my first week in Blackwood resurfaced.

I melded into his back, arms threading over his shoulders, grabbing the fabric of his hoodie in a death grip, hiding my face in the crook of his neck, inhaling his scent to calm down. “Philip. Are there wolves in these woods? I think I heard them howling my first week in Blackwood.” I whispered into his neck.

At that, his muscles that were relaxing stiffened again. But then a rumbling sound rolled through his chest and he laughed. Tilting his head to the side, he looked at me. “Scared of the Big Bad Wolf, huh, Red?” With the teasing manner of his question, that little seed of fear got squished. “Well, you know, does the wolf shit in the woods?” He laughed harder at my quip.

“Mina said there aren’t any. But still…”

“Don’t worry, she’s right. There aren’t any wolves here. Let’s go. I think you’ll love the view.”

I threw one hand in the air, smiling widely. “Onward my noble steed!!! Allons-y!”

He chuckled. “Stop squirming or I’m gonna drop you.”

Love was an understatement. We climbed up through the forest following an overgrown path, breaking through the tree line high on a rocky cliff, and the sight left me slack jawed, hitching my breath.

The sky, a gradient of indigo, cobalt, pink and orange as the sun turned in for the day. The remnants of its glow eddying behind mountains as the first stars twinkled to life. Underneath was a vast forest ocean as far as eye could see, different shades of green rolling over hills as waves. A shimmering of a snaking river and two lakes reflecting the dying embers of sunlight broke up the never-ending green and among it flickering lights like will-o’-wisps beckoning you to them stood the town of Blackwood, nestled in the forests center.

“Oh, my god… It’s… it’s…” I swear I know other words but I couldn’t find any appropriate enough. Beautiful wasn’t really cutting it.

“You like it?” Philip asked, sitting me down on a boulder further from the edge.

“I love it… It’s mabuful…” I whispered, still under the heavy influence of the sight before me.

“Mabuful?” He huffed out a laugh, sitting next to me, our arms and legs brushing.

“Yeah. Magically beautiful.” But even that didn’t cut it.

I could sense his amused gaze on me. “Ah, but of course. What else could it be?” I rested my head on his shoulder, hooking my arm through his.

“It’s so pretty.” I sighed.

“Yeah... It is.” He said, and I lifted my eyes, catching him looking at me with the expression I couldn’t interpret, but that made heat rise to my cheeks, so I buried my face into his arm, nuzzling. That made him clear his throat and chuckle.

“How did you find this place?”

“I like to wander around. So I stumbled upon it and loved it. I come here to clear my head sometimes. I’m glad you like it.”

“Mmm… I do. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

We sat like that in comfortable silence as more and more stars dotted the now inky sky and the silver crescent moon cast its faint glow down on the forest. A breeze swept through and I shivered, huddling closer to Philip.

“You cold?” He asked, and not even waiting for my answer, he grabbed the hem of his hoodie, pulling it off. The t-shirt he wore underneath rode up, exposing taut, chiseled abdominal muscles and a deep v cut trailing down into his jeans. There was a tiny, surprised squeak that lodged in my throat, threatening to fly out as I averted my eyes, heat rising over my neck. I mean, Philip had an impressive built. But he usually wore baggy shirts or hoodies, and unlike his friend Blondie, he didn’t flaunt or go shirtless.

“Here.” He handed me the hoodie, pulling his shirt down.

“Um… Aren’t you gonna be cold?” I asked, taking the huge freaking thing, unfolding it.

“Nope. I’m not sensitive to cold. Put it on, Shrimp so you don’t freeze.” he nudged me with his elbow, jutting his chin at the hoodie.

“Aye, aye captain Crabby Pants.” I dragged it over my head and pushed my arms through it. Warmth and his scent enveloped me as I swam in the soft fabric. I laughed at how ridiculously it fitted me as I stood up, flailing the long sleeves around. “Wow! It’s like a blanket! It goes to my mid thigh! And the sleeves! I believe I can fly…” I sang as I twirled around before Philip caught me by the sleeves, pulling me to him as he sat back down on the boulder, laughing. “Calm down Shrimp, don’t fly off the cliff just yet.” He took to rolling the sleeves up for me and something in the manner of how he did it, his deft fingers, gentle, careful, made my heart squeeze, and warm. But when he finished, he slipped his hands over mine, holding them, his gaze down-cast, dark lashes fanning his cheeks as a small crease formed between his brows. “Um…” he started, clearing his throat, taking a breath, his eyes intent on our joined hands as he spoke, “You know how you promised Theo to go to his birthday party?” I opened my mouth, about to apologize that I promised something I couldn’t keep, but he lifted his eyes to mine, causing me to shut it.

“Would you mind actually going with me?” Oh… I wasn’t expecting that.

“Um, I would like to. But isn’t it like a family thing? I don’t wish to intrude…”

Philip huffed a humorless laugh. “Family thing, my ass.” He sounded bitter, clenching his jaw. I knew his family situation was… complicated. I didn’t know the full extent of how much, waiting for him to be comfortable to open up about it.

“No...you won’t intrude. Theo invited you, plus I… I really want you to go with me.” the hold on my hands tightened as he said that. His eyes bore into mine, expectant, waiting. Pleading almost. “Oh… Um, sure. I would love to.” I smiled as a grin spread over his face.

“Ah, fair warning though, it’s a sort of bourgeois type of thing.”

“Eh, a kids’ party?”

He snorted. “Unfortunately, even an event like that in Constantinov’s household is a glorious business and networking opportunity. So it’s actually less of a party, more of a formal gathering of all the Blackwood snobs and their kids. I hate it, but it’s Theo’s birthday, so...” Oh… so he is from a rich family. The way he explained it sounded sad. My birthday memories… They were all warm, joyful ones. The anticipation of waiting for guests, the excitement of unwrapping presents, blowing candles, eating cake, taking pictures… All happy memories with my grandmother, Mina, Lola, the people I loved. The ones closest to me. Nothing cold or detached like the event he described, and I wondered…

“Have your birthdays been like that, too?” I asked quietly, tilting my head as I brushed hair away from his face, liking the feel of cool, velvety strands between my fingers. He closed his eyes, leaning into my touch.

“Yes. But my mother always organized a party just for the two of us afterwards. When I say party, what I mean is, she made a cake, and we ate it together.”

“What about your father?”

A muscle in his jaw jumped. He steadied his voice, but he couldn’t hide the contempt. “Father was busy at work… Like always.” The answer crinkled my heart like a piece of paper as I remembered Blondie’s comment about how Philip and his father didn’t get along. Now I knew why he said his father was an ass-wipe like mine… He was never around, it seemed.

“So, even knowing it’s a posh affair, you still want to go with me?” He tugged at the sleeves of the hoodie, bringing me closer to him. One of his hands rested on my hip, the other tucking my hair behind my ear. His fingers splayed on the back of my neck and he pulled me in for a kiss. A brief, sweet press of lips.

“Yeah. I’ll go.” I whispered against his mouth, my hands going to the side of his face, his sliding to my waist.

“You sure? You can still back off, you know?”

“I’m sure. Now, shush Crabby Pants, it’s practice time.” I could feel him smile against my lips as I took over the kiss.

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