Chapter Two: Lea
The next morning, I was forcibly roused by pellets of rain assaulting my window. Squinting my eyes to look at my clock, it read 11:00 am. Great. The one thing I hated about working nights was sleeping the morning away. I loved mornings. I loved making coffee, reading the newspaper (cheesy I know), and eating breakfast at breakfast time.
I rubbed my weary eyes, and as my brain sloughed off the last bit of sleepiness, last night’s occurrences flooded my memory. I jumped up and out of bed and tiptoed to my door. Opening it slowly, and just enough to where my eyes could peek a faint sliver of the couch, to my surprise, he wasn’t there (not going to lie, I was a bit relieved).
I moved with caution over to the couch and inspected the puncture marks on the bottom cushion once again. Running my fingers over the marks on the couch and my arm, visions of last night surged through my mind. Liam bolting upright, his eyes flashing green, the horror on his face as his nails sunk into my arm. I couldn’t be sure, but he seemed scared of something, but what?
After reexamining all the evidence, I moved to the kitchen to make some coffee. If I was going to solve this mystery, my mind needed caffeine, and my body needed food. Opening my fridge, all that was left were condiments, old leftovers from last night’s meal, and some soy milk. I should add grocery shopping to the mental list that began forming in my mind. I took the last two pieces of bread out of the bag and popped them in the toaster.
I then moved to the bathroom to put my “eyes in” (aka contacts). Gazing into the mirror at my reflection, I studied my face, and I began to see flashes of Liam’s bright green eyes. I had never seen eyes that color before, let alone for two people as well as Sean’s who were a bright swirling gray color. I moved closer and thoroughly examined my irises. Depending on the light, my eyes were a lovely shade of light or dark blue; however, they paled in comparison to Liam, Sean, and Jeff’s. After examining my eyes, I began to view the rest of myself in the mirror (yes, I fall into the category of standing in front of the mirror and passing judgment on myself).
My long brown hair was always complimented, especially when I left it wavy or in one long braid. I guess I could thank my mother for that gift. She too had thick, shiny hair that made all the women her age jealous.
Opening my mouth, I inspected my teeth, which were fairly straight for never having braces; however, when I was younger, I prayed every night to the tooth fairy for straight teeth (she never answered). While all my classmates were getting braces, I was guilty of countless hours in front of the mirror trying to push them together. My mom didn’t believe in metal contraptions glued to my mouth (so she said) but I knew the real reason was braces were expensive and cut into her drug money or rent and food (which she was always lacking). As I got older, I gave up and realized personality and brains were more important than perfectly straight bottom teeth.
Moving from my face, I began to survey my arms, then stomach and legs. While I still considered myself relatively skinny, I missed the days when I had time to go to the gym or for a run and the muscles that came with it. Working out was my stress reliever when I was in college. Since my lifelong dream was to become a detective, I found myself drawn to boxing (or any fighting style for that matter), working out, and eating healthy (anything that would put me ahead of the game). I even decided to become vegan at the start of my sophomore year. I stumbled upon a documentary called “Forks over Knives” one evening on Netflix, and meat and dairy were history ever since. I didn’t know much about nutrition or the meat and dairy industry prior, but after learning the truth, my detective mind took over. That documentary opened a cascade of other research, documentaries, and opinions on the meat and dairy industry. I was a changed woman and truly believed to be healthier and happier.
Reminiscing my old life goals and habits was depressing, so I decided to make New Year’s Resolution number two—join a gym or start working out again and get back to being a healthy vegan. Staring myself down in the mirror, I repeated my resolutions out loud, and with a dry erase marker wrote them on my mirror. One—no dating (until I have gotten back on my feet mentally and physically), and two—get my ass back in shape and start eating better. Staring at my two goals, I put the cap on the marker and sighed—a new year.
Happy with my self-therapy session, I ventured back into the kitchen to finish my breakfast. After putting peanut butter on my toast (my favorite) and pouring a nice, steaming mug of coffee, I sat at my little kitchen bar and pulled out today’s paper. Nothing eventful on the front page but a few headlines about our new mayor and all the good he intended to do for our city, and how this winter had been unusually cold and snowy (they were right about that). I flipped to the second page, and an article caught my attention. “THIRD HIKER TO GO MISSING IN MT. RAINIER NATIONAL PARK”. I remembered reading the articles about the other two, but now a third?
This hiker was a twenty-four-year-old woman who had been missing since Friday. She was with two other friends camping, and according to them, disappeared after going to the river to take photographs. Detectives spotted a rather large wolf print with blood near the area as well as her camera. The blood was that of an animal’s, and the camera yielded no further evidence (apparently).
I cut this article out of the paper, just in case it grew useful. My brain churned. With the three missing hikers in the past month and my new mysterious green-eyed friend with talons for nails, I was practically salivating at the chance to solve something.
Since I was a child, I watched every detective show on TV and read every detective book I could get my hands on (especially Nancy Drew). As I got older, my obsession with solving mysteries and crimes continued to grow. I enrolled at the University of Washington as a criminal justice major. When my nose wasn’t stuck in a textbook, I spent my free time playing sudoku, crossword, or any other puzzles I could find, as well as reading and writing poetry, boxing and working out. These hobbies were an outlet for me. I loved deciphering the various meanings of older poems and fell in love with how older poets spoke and wrote. I became so infatuated with poetry and the romanticism that I started writing poems of my own. Putting my words down on paper helped me process and heal better than any therapy session.
After my mother was arrested and placed in rehab, I was forced to drop out of school and get a job. Going from what I loved doing to the exact opposite took a toll on me mentally. I became depressed, reclusive, and even more introverted than before. I had always struggled to fit in with others. I found girls to be too much drama, and boys always wanted to be more than friends. On the weekends I chose to spend my time at the gym, or at a coffee shop reading and writing until it closed. All of that changed when I became a bartender for a living. I stopped reading, writing poems, doing puzzles, anything that reminded me of what I had to give up. It took me a solid year or so to come to terms with the fact I may never be a detective, and I might be a bartender forever.
Meeting the mysterious Liam, coupled with the three missing hiker articles, I found my dormant passion for solving mysteries and playing detective reawakened. I couldn’t help but think (somehow) these three disappearances were related. I made a mental note that one of these weekends soon I would travel to Mt. Rainier park and do a little investigative work myself, but for now, grocery shopping and cleaning were bigger priorities.
After scouring my apartment with Lysol and stocking my fridge with my new healthy, vegan foods for the brand-new and improved me, it was already time for work. I got ready quickly and arrived on time for once. Hector was there to greet me with a bright smile and a cheerful attitude. He looked dashing tonight in his white button-down, and light blue bow tie; hair slicked back as always. “Looking sharp,” I said to Hector, giving him a little whistle.
“Well, I decided since I would be meeting my future husband this evening, I would dress to impress.” Hector straightened his bow tie in the bar mirror and turned, “Do you think he will show again tonight?”
I decided to leave Liam’s drunken couch escapade off my list of things to tell Hector and just replied, “I think he will show again. He seemed to have a lot of fun last night.”
Hector beamed, “Ugh, I sure hope so. He is positively divine.” I laughed and secretly thought “if only he saw what happened last night.” While Liam was “positively divine,” he could be a mutant or serial killer for all I knew.
Hector and I finished the pre-opening duties, laughing and joking as usual, and at the stroke of 8, the doors opened. As if on cue, Walter strolled in with a few familiar colleagues in tow. I began reaching for the bottle of vodka, but he held up a hand, “Wait, little darling, we need some shots tonight! Tequila please, best you got! We have to celebrate.”
I poured five shots of top-shelf tequila and opened Walter’s tab. Before I could ask him why the celebration, he blurted out, “We just won a big legal case, where the stepfather was having an affair with his wife’s daughter!” I paused, unsure if congratulations were an appropriate response. Walter and his officiates clinked their shot glasses and threw them back before I could come up with some form of compliment. I refilled their glasses, and before he could elaborate, I glanced around the bar to see who needed service next, and to my surprise, I saw Liam.
I nervously walked over to him, but before I could speak he exclaimed, “I am so sorry, Lea. I never meant to get that drunk, let alone blackout and have you take care of me. Hopefully, I didn’t embarrass myself too much? Can I make it up to you?”
I paused for a second, wondering what I should say, and realized this could be my chance to dig for answers. I responded, “Well you can start by telling me a bit more about yourself and why you got so drunk in the first place….”
He hesitated for a second, “Sure, what would you like to know?”
I glanced around the bar and realized one of the other regulars was waiting. “Hold that thought.” I mixed Mr. Bentley his cosmopolitan and poured a bourbon for Liam. Handing Mr. Bentley his drink, I returned to Liam and decided to just go for it. Without thinking, I just blurt out “Are you gay? And why you drank so much was because of Jeff or Sean?”
Liam took a sip of his bourbon and smiled, “Yes, I am gay, and yes I drank because of them. I dated Jeff for many years; however, Jeff fell in love with Sean, our best friend since high school, and sometimes it is hard to see them so happy together and me so alone.”
My forward question opened the conversation considerably, and after a few more hours, I had discovered many things about Liam. First, I learned his full name was Liam Mason, he was born and raised in Leavenworth, Washington, and was twenty-seven-years-old. He moved to Seattle a few years ago to open an investment company with Jeff and to be closer to his two best friends. Apparently, Liam resolved his issues with Jeff and Sean to make a move to Seattle and open a business with the man he used to love (unfortunately sounds like something I would do). His investment company was doing quite well, allowing him to have the luxury of a very flexible schedule.
As “twenty questions” continued, I found out that we also shared a passion for art and music as well as romantic comedies. Liam loved drama class and acting but decided to attend school for business and accounting. It was nice talking to a guy and not having to worry about his ulterior motives. Within a few hours, I felt we had built up enough of a foundation that I could ask about his dream. I found the perfect segue when he asked for another drink.
I replied jokingly, “I don’t want you repeating last night’s performance,” and he responded a little sarcastically, “I won’t, I promise. Was I really that awful?” (Jackpot—he fell for it.)
“Well, you didn’t throw up, which was nice,” I replied jokingly, “But you did seem to have some pretty crazy dreams. You muttered something about turning, and you suddenly jumped up. You looked petrified, leaving some decent nail marks on my couch (I decided to leave out my arm and his bright, frightening green eyes).” Liam’s face went from one of joking and laughter to one of seriousness and worry.
As if noticing his sudden expression change, Liam forced a smile, “I didn’t mean to frighten you. I sometimes have terrible nightmares that appear so real. When I was a child, my father used to tell me this one story that has stuck with me ever since.”
“What story?” I asked curiously.
“Well, to get me to behave and do my chores, my father used to tell me this old folk story about a giant white wolf.” Laughing at hearing this, I clasped my hand over my mouth.
Liam threw up his hands, “Just wait! It really scared me as a child. Don’t laugh!”
“Ok, Ok, I am sorry, continue,” I giggled while wiping the bar.
“Where was I….”
“The scary white wolf,” I interrupted.
Liam rolled his eyes and continued…
Well, during the mid to late 19th century, throughout Washington, rumors surfaced of a mysterious White Wolf. The sightings were so frequent that the tales eventually developed into a local legend, one of which can still be heard today. The legend goes, that a professor who dabbled in the dark arts, was called upon by the small town of Wilkeson. All the villagers complained of seeing a giant, elusive white wolf with beady red eyes. The wolf never seemed to mean them any harm, often showing himself during a full moon, letting out a mournful howl toward the light of the night sky. While seeing the ghostly figure of a white wolf was frightening enough, what was even more troublesome, was soon after the sighting, the villager would pass away.
The dark arts professor doubted the villagers’ claims and decided to pay a visit to the land in which the wolf was often spotted. One night, the professor drew a circular shape in the sand and sketched a series of strange symbols meant to lure spirits from hiding. As the full moon rose high into the night’s sky, a shrouded figure appeared within the circle. The solid white, giant wolf stared straight into the professor’s eyes, and in a flash, the wolf transformed into a Native American adorned with tribal headgear. The spirit conversed with the professor for several unnerving minutes. The spirit conveyed that he was stuck in the realm of the undying, and his visible presence was an ominous omen for anyone who ever laid eyes on him. The professor, mortified from his experience, denied any claims to the legend of the white wolf or ever seeing him. Shortly after, the professor fell, stricken with sickness, dying within two days. Over the years, the legend always followed that whoever laid eyes on the white wolf had misfortune coming their way. My father added on, however, that if I didn’t clean my room or do my homework as a child, that the white wolf would visit me.
This story was fascinating, especially since it was a local legend that I had never heard. I had to remember to research this tale when I got home. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was true. I always tried to keep an open mind, believing anything was possible, even with the idea of ghosts or demons, but I had to see to believe (not that I would seek out demons or ghosts).
Before I could ask Liam any more questions, however, I had to help Hector serve the countless bodies amassed around the bar. As I was mixing, I couldn’t help but imagine the massive white wolf with red eyes. Shuddering at the thought of potentially seeing a ghost, and the misfortune it would bring, I began to see why Liam might be so afraid as a child.
The rest of the night was unexpectedly busy, leaving me very little time to converse with Liam; however, I found myself surprisingly cheery with Liam there to keep me company (and the fact I had the day off tomorrow helped). Hector finally got his chance to speak to Liam. He stumbled over his words, trying shamelessly to get Liam’s phone number. I began to wonder if that was how I looked talking to Liam. I couldn’t help but giggle as I saw Hector unravel, fidgeting and blushing while talking to him.
After a few more attempts, Hector eventually gave up, realizing he was not Liam’s type. Dejected, Hector walked over to me, and I patted him on the back, “Shake it off, don’t worry that’s how I felt, too, when I realized I wasn’t his type either.” Hector made a frowny face, slumping his shoulders, and sulked for a good thirty minutes, but after an hour or so, Hector forgot all about Mr. Liam. A pair of attractive gay guys walked in, and he practically hip-checked me out of the way to serve them (I guess Hector found another flavor of the week).
I strolled back over to Liam and turned to marvel at Hector with him. He laughed, “I guess he got over me quick. I’m hurt.”
I rolled my eyes and laughed, “Oh you thought you were special? Hector has a new crush almost every day. Poor guy, I hope he finds someone soon. He is so sweet, and he deserves someone special.” Liam raised his glass to that.
Changing the subject, Liam said, “Speaking of special, would you want to catch a special movie or maybe check out a special art gallery with me tomorrow?”
Inside I wanted to say yes, but I knew that I hadn’t seen my mother in a few days and I couldn’t put it off any longer. The last time I saw her she had a mental breakdown and tried to pull all her hair out. Needless to say, I was not super thrilled about returning. Fidgeting and weighing my options, I decided to tell Liam the truth (since he and I were only friends with no potential for dating), “I would love to Liam, but I already have special plans to visit my mother in rehab.”
Without hesitation, Liam spoke, “I could come with you if you wanted company?” Uncertain of what to do (and not prepared for him to offer that), I stammered, “Um ok. I feel like there are some things I need to tell you first before you make your decision. Would you mind waiting outside while I finish up?” Liam nodded and made his way to the door.
I exhaled sharply as he walked out the bar door. No one had ever accompanied me to visit my mom in prison rehab before, let alone someone as accomplished as Liam. My last boyfriend was a loser, and I never felt bad telling him about my mom, but Liam was a different story. I wasn’t sure if I was mentally ready for that.
After closing duties, I met Liam outside and we began strolling toward the train. Unsure where to start, I burst out, “My mom is a bipolar drug addict and currently in a court-mandated rehab facility for criminals. I was forced to quit the school where I wanted to graduate with a degree in criminal justice and eventually become a detective. I work at a club, which I think is severely undermining my talents and passion, and I not only pay my bills but hers as well. I am just so tired physically and emotionally from her roller coaster of emotions and her ungratefulness for all that I have done and all that I have given up.” The words kept flowing from my mouth, unable to stop them, the tears began to fall. I have held so much in for so long and talked to no one about it (I hate being vulnerable let alone crying in front of anyone) that I couldn’t stop.
Liam fell quiet for a moment as if knowing this was a monumental step in my life. When I couldn’t say any more, I let out a deep sigh, like a huge weight had lifted off my chest and shoulders, and I could finally breathe again.
“Feel better?” Liam asked.
“Much better,” I muttered. Looking at him with a bit uncertainty, I wiped my eyes and prayed that I hadn’t said too much.
Liam cleared his throat, “I am so sorry you had to go through all of that. No child should have to grow up that quickly or become a parent to their mom. I just want you to know that you can talk to me about anything. I most certainly haven’t had the greatest childhood either. My parents were very controlling of who I was and who they thought I should be. One of the reasons I moved to Seattle was to get away from their expectations and control. While Seattle isn’t too far away, my parents don’t ever venture to the city, and I hope it stays that way.”
Staring into his bright green eyes, I felt as if he and I were meant to meet. I was a firm believer that everything happened for a reason and that most people came into your life for a reason, often when you needed them most. I felt as if Liam and I connected, not on a romantic level, but as friends. Having a guy friend never worked; however, Liam seemed to create the perfect scenario.
I had never had a gay guy friend that I hung out with outside of work, but I had a feeling I was going to like it very much. Liam and I talked nonstop. He told me more of his childhood—born in the small town of Leavenworth, surrounded by wilderness and wildlife, he had every boy’s dream. Growing up, he was homeschooled until he was fifteen, then allowed to attend a prestigious boarding school in New Orleans, Louisiana.
At school, he made friends easily, loved the arts and theater, and being surrounded by people. He joined the school drama club and excelled in acting. While Liam realized he wanted to be an actor, his parents made sure he shined in all other areas as well. It was in high school that Liam realized he was gay (after meeting Jeff in drama club), and when he came out to his parents, they shamed him. Liam took the disapproval of his parents hard. He often stayed at boarding school over holidays or went to Jeff’s parents’ house. Jeff and Liam dated throughout high school (undercover). During their junior year, Sean came into the picture. The pair naturally gravitated to Sean. Even though he was merely a freshman, he was full of life and spirit. Sean was from Tacoma and had a bubbly, confident, extroverted personality.
After graduation, Liam went to college. Liam attended Princeton while Jeff chose Dartmouth. Sean did not attend college (apparently it wasn’t his thing). The two achieved long distance throughout their four years of Bachelors’ and two years of graduate school. Over the course of their relationship, Liam’s parents became more accepting of the two, and after meeting Jeff, they loved him. After graduation, Liam reluctantly moved back home to maintain the family business (his father was a very successful investor and businessman in Tacoma), and Jeff decided to follow. Being apart for so long, and now seeing each other all the time, the two soon realized they had grown apart. After many attempts to salvage the relationship, Jeff decided to move back home to Portland.
Shortly after, Sean decided to take a trip to Portland to visit Jeff, and the visit transformed the trio’s friendship forever. Jeff and Sean started dating, and Sean eventually moved to Portland. A talented mechanic, Sean opened an auto-body and mechanic shop. Sean rapidly became successful performing auto and detail work for most of the celebrities and wealthy people in the area and on the West coast. It was a classic case portrayed in many romantic movies, songs, and plays (although a degree more complicated), Liam loved Jeff—Jeff now loved Sean—and Sean didn’t want to ruin their friendship.
After a couple years of space, Jeff reached out to Liam and offered an apology, confessing that he missed Liam’s friendship. Liam visited Portland to see if he could handle being around the two. While the start of the weekend was rough, they all agreed that their friendship was most important. The three kept a relationship up for another year, visiting one another when possible until Jeff approached Liam about opening their own investment company in Seattle. A few years later, Jeff and Liam had become successful business owners, Sean opened another lucrative shop in Seattle, and the three friends again were living in the same city.
While Liam was telling his story, I did the mental math in my head. Liam said he was twenty-seven, but his timeline after college and graduate school weren’t adding up. “Liam, when did you graduate college?”
Liam stumbled for a moment, “2012, Why Lea?”
“Well I keep adding all the years up in my head, and it just seems like you should be older than twenty-seven….”
Liam interjected as if he knew where I was going with this, “Well when I say years, it just seems like years,” laughing a little. “I’m really twenty-seven-years-old, but sometimes it feels like I should be way older.” He produced a slightly worried smile, and since I couldn’t find any way to refute that statement, I smiled back; however, adding this one to the mystery list.
When we finally made it to my apartment door, I didn’t want to go inside and say goodnight. Liam felt like the long-lost brother or friend that I desperately needed. Begrudgingly, I said, “Thank you for walking me home. Call you in the morning?”
Liam smiled, “Of course Lea. It is my duty to make sure you get home safe. I will be awaiting your call.” Liam turned and headed down the stairs. Watching him descend, he faltered and turned, “Thanks, Lea.”
Bemused I said, “For what?”
“For listening. I know we both have messed-up childhoods and past relationship drama, but like you, I haven’t had anyone that I could talk to or bare my soul. I feel like I can trust you and I have known you forever, but I barely know you...It’s comforting.”
“I would have to agree, (seizing my moments as they come) and I know there are things in my past that I haven’t gone into details about yet, but I hope one day we could have a friendship where nothing is held back.”
With a half-smile, Liam replied, “I would like that very much.” With that, he turned and continued to head down the stairs. I spun and headed into my apartment.
Quickly getting ready for sleep, I crawled into my bed and laid thinking about my day and my conversations with Liam. My mind began to race, memories flashing through my brain like a giant web of pictures swirling around —the article of the missing girl—possible wolf suspect—Liam’s white wolf stories—puncture marks on my couch and arm—eyes flashing green—his timeline not adding up—and suddenly I sat bolt upright. I had watched my fair share of Twilight and Underworld movies, but the theory my mind was proposing seemed to be a little too far-fetched.
I sprinted to my computer and paced back and forth while it booted up. Major caffeination was necessary for me to research this crazy idea of mine. I ran to the kitchen, put on a pot, and ran back to my slow computer. As soon as the screen popped up, I navigated to Google Search. Staring at the keyboard, I tentatively typed, “W-E-R-E-W-O-L-F-M-Y-T-H-O-L-O-G-Y,” and hit “enter”.
While my old Mac pilfered the depths of the internet, I returned to the kitchen and poured a stout mug of hot black coffee, grabbed my bag of cherries from the fridge, and headed back to my computer. Sitting down, feeling like my old college self, I began to scroll absorbing all that I could.
According to one site, the legend of the werewolf originated with the Ancient Greeks. Zeus, the god of thunder and storm, visited the Greek King, Lycaeon. Believing Zeus to be an imposter, King Lycaeon thought it would be amusing to test the almighty god by serving him the flesh of his son Nyctimus in one of the many dishes served at a banquet in their honor (this guy had a morbid sense of humor). Upon discovering the tainted dish, Zeus changed King Lycaeon into a werewolf—since he apparently liked human flesh, the wolf form would be a more acceptable figure to enjoy such a vile act. Zeus then brought his son Nyctimus back to life. While I am all for gods and the belief in a higher power, I found this legend a bit hard to fathom. I kept digging.
The next article was a little more interesting. The most famous werewolf tale was that of “Little Red Riding Hood,” which I remembered as a child, but didn’t know it was about werewolves. This werewolf-based tale originated in 17th century Europe and correlated with the werewolf witch trials in Estonia. While in the form of a wolf, at least 30 men and women were tried and hung for damage of property and cattle.
In Baltic countries, “Hans the Werewolf” proved to be the most popular witch trial. Hans was brought before the court and questioned. When asked about his lycanthropy, Hans claimed he transformed body and mind into the shape of a wolf, and he felt more beast than man. He also claimed he was given this disguise by a “man in black,” which the courts believed to be Satan and Hans burned at the stake.
Finally, I wanted to research Liam’s nightmarish childhood story. I typed in “Legend of the White wolf,” to see what would pop up. While there were a couple fiction novels written with the title, I couldn’t find any substantial evidence behind Liam’s story, or any evidence that proved Liam could be a werewolf. While the tales of werewolves were fascinating, I needed solid evidence. I yawned and decided to call it a night. Maybe tomorrow would prove more fruitful.