11. The Halflight II
When I was little, we used to go on holidays to this touristy little town by the beach and rent a little place for a week. I was a complete water fanatic; my parents were hard-pressed to get me to leave even after the sun had gone down and left me with red raw skin and more than a few freckles. My hair turned stiff from the constant saltiness I subjected it to, and split almost with indignation. But something about the excitement of being on the beach, with all its foreign wealth of sand, salt and sun made me forget to breathe, especially in the thick of the pure water swaying to the shore and lapping at its blonde shoulder, curving into the rocks. This made my parents understandably nervous, and my father would anxiously accompany me everywhere I went in the water. But one day he lost sight of me, and I happily splashed and dove and pretended to be Ocean Girl, never noticing the giant wave swelling above me. It pushed me down, down until I came to rest against sand and seaweed, barely noticing the lack of oxygen. I began to drift away into darkness until I felt strong arms pull me up again, into the light where I could take breath.
That's what the weeks following Eve's death felt like. But this time, there was no strong-armed father to pull me back up into blissful air; I was stuck underwater, anchored and alone, and I knew there was only the despair of eternal quiet of the deep waiting for me.
It had been Sam that had found me. I was still lying next to Eve, violent sobs wracking my body as I watched how hers did not move at all. I barely acknowledged Sam's presence, who was shouting at me to get up, to help him wake Eve up. I watched him stumble to the unoccupied space near her mangled form and groan throatily.
"Wake her up Jenny. Tell her to come back because I…I need her." His choking sobs were too much for me, and the smell of death far too offensive, like petroleum or camphor. I dragged myself away and threw up under a swaying angophora, which seemed somehow aware of the violence that lay below, its leaves shuddering and chattering along with us. My head spinning wildly, I looked back to where Sam was weeping, clutching Eve against him and whispering lover's verses in her deaf ears. I pushed myself to my feet and wobbled over to him, my legs buckling under me like a newborn colt's.
"I'm going to go back. I'm going to call the police." I stated steadily; surprisingly. Sam made no sign that he had heard me, and continued his macabre embrace with his dead lover.
The walk back to the house was long. I faintly registered how far away we were. I suddenly remembered I had my phone in my pocket and shoved my trembling hand in, fishing it out. It was late, around 2am, but I had no service. The sounds of the party were still strong, and I emerged from the wild as some blood-splattered angel, war torn and tainted and no longer one of His.
People stopped to look at me, too shocked to do anything as I trudged up to the front door and knocked. Dave-O's mother opened the door, a smile on her face until she looked at me; any happiness and pride she was feeling at having raised her son to this age slipped from her face like wet snow.
"May I please use your telephone?" I asked hollowly, and Mrs Marshall nodded dumbly, stepping aside to allow me to step in.
"There's been a terrible accident Mr Miller. It's Eve. Please come now."
Everything after that was a blur. I remember Mrs Marshall giving me a blanket, and my faint protests that I was only get blood on it. I remember the police arriving, but words and questions are unclear in my mind, and my own answers muted in my memory. I could do nothing but lead them, the Marshall's blanket still wrapped around me and trailing on the frosty ground, to where Eve lay. Sam was still holding her. It took them half an hour to separate him from her. Mr Miller stood a few meters away, his uniform neatly ironed and an unreadable expression fixed on his face. I walked over to him slowly.
"Can I go home now?" I tugged on Mr Miller's sleeve and he looked at me as though I had startled him. His face crumpled and he suddenly pulled me into his arms, sobbing heavily into my hair.
School was cancelled after that night, for a whole week. The police had launched a full scale search for the thing that attacked Eve and Hugo and all those other people. I knew (miserable knowing) that it wouldn't lead them to what they wanted; not until the next full moon and by then Derik may have skipped town.
I found myself itching to do the same. I couldn't confide in Sam what the terrible truth was, and it was so preposterous it was doubtful even he would believe me. I couldn't explain to the police how Eve's blood had ended up on my neck and clothes without it getting on my hands, or if I had seen what attacked her. I couldn't, and it broke my heart that I wasn't able to give a grieving father and entire community closure, a sense of finality. Without it, Eve still flitted through empty rooms and in the corners of mirrors; a secret smile on her lips and wild sparkling eyes.
The funeral had been grim. Floods of people arrived, and there were so many that some had to stand on the streets outside the church, Eve's favourite songs playing on a stereo system.
LCD Soundsystem, Cat Power, Queen, Holly Throsby, Bon Iver; I remember whispering to Sam that the church pews had probably never been exposed to such good music before. I sat by him the entire time, head resting on his shoulder. Mr Miller cried for the entire service.
I walked barefoot home, heels swinging at my side. I stopped at the park, and took a seat on one of the swings; my stockings were laddering at the toes, but I barely noticed. My dress felt thick and itchy, pushed to the back of my wardrobe for a reason. But it was respectable.
That's the least I owed the Millers.
I jumped out of my skin when I felt a hand slip under my braid and trace tiny patterns into my neck. I shouldn't have; I should know better by now.
"Derik." I murmured softly, not bothering to turn and check. He said nothing, just continued to etch his art onto my skin; marking me. "Why?" I sighed shakily, half-ashamed of leaning into his touch. The same touch that killed a girl who I knew quite well.
"You don't understand schat. I'm not as…in control of tings when I'm like that. There's instinct I can't fight, and I attack. Without wanting to, I never wanted to. The only time I feel any calm is when I'm near you. You balance me. You finish me. I never knew how incomplete I was until-" He broke off suddenly, tender passion bubbling to the surface; something I'd never heard before. "Until I met you." He finished gently, sliding his hand from my neck to the dip of my shoulder. His voice got hard again. "We make sense. You know it. You'll never be happy or fulfilled with anyone else, and this is something deeper than thought; its pounding blood and you can't stop it or fight it because it always gets its way. I always get my way." I didn't move, as if poisoned by his will; but I freed myself.
"You do realise you murdered my friend on the weekend, don't you?" It was said casually, dead panned as if the punch line to one of my dumb jokes. I stepped away from the swing, turning to face him in all his impeccable beauty. "You're lucky I don't have enough proof to pin this on you, that the story I have is so laughable that no one in their right mind would believe it. You're a…a werewolf." The words sounded foolish as they tumbled from my mouth, but I looked at him forensically to gauge his reaction. His expression didn't change and unbearable silence followed. I was ready to desperately insist it was a slip of the tongue; that I actually meant it metaphorically. But he opened his mouth, one word sealing the cage of cold dreadful fear surrounding me:
The confirmation, though some small dark part of me already knew it was coming, made me sharply inhale a lungful of cold air. It swam around inside of me and as if it were the horrible truth I had just heard, it poisoned and choked me. My entire world of constructed thoughts and beliefs were beginning to crumble around me and I vaguely noticed Derik moving forward, his eyes full of concern. I leaped from his reach, my eyes darting to my heels which lay abandoned behind him and figuring out how best I could gather them up in my escape.
"Don't come near me, Vandergeld. You're a…a thing! You're dangerous and I won't have anything to do with you." I uttered vehemently, my voice low and gravelly. I thought I saw hurt flicker in his eyes but it was replaced by that same flinty hardness before I could proper ascertain this.
"You fighting this will only make things worse, schat. Being apart from you for too long, its agony; it stirs the thing, as you call it, inside me and makes it more violent, more bloodthirsty. But you can stop it all, Jennifer. Come away with me and everything will stop." He was coaxing, convincing, and I almost felt myself sway towards him but I stopped myself.
"What you're doing now, its emotional blackmail. You could be feeding me a whole line of bullshit and I wouldn't know." I remained aloof, my arms crossed over my body protectively as I watched him. He let out a growl of frustration.
"Why would I lie? Neither of us will find peace unless you accept your fate, but others will suffer if you do not come to me." I couldn't find the threatening tone that usually lingered in his voice, only frustration and desperation. This made me nervous, and I swapped the pressure onto my other foot.
"What does that mean?" I was still hard in my question, but this time a little bit more unsure of myself. I wasn't used to that. I saw relief pool in his eyes slightly; he recognised that I was giving a little, so he could explain.
"It means," he sighed, staring at me directly in my eyes. "It means that you're my mate."
My first instinct was to laugh. His expression indicated that he was serious, and that he thought he had given a reasonable answer, but I couldn't stop the laughter that bubbled from my mouth and into the space between us. He looked immediately indignant, and I tried to compose myself enough to say something.
"Um, what? It's clear you think that's meant to make some sort of penny drop for me, but seriously? I'm your mate? We're not mates. Well, I thought we were, kind of, until you ripped my friend to pieces." Saying the truth out loud made it so much more awful , and my smile faltered. "You ripped her to pieces…" I murmured, trailing off and staring at a tiny daisy, fighting its way to the sun amongst the tall grass.
"No, not in that sense. I tend to forget you Australians have all this slang." He ignored my brief gloomy reverie. "My mate as in…my soul mate. The one person I'm destined for and vice versa. It's how we behave, what we've been doing for centuries." I snapped out of my thoughts which had begun to wander to Eve, and stared at him, the magnitude of his words sinking in.
"What?" I managed stupidly. "But, no. How do you…? That's not really possible…is it? I don't..." I shook my head violently, my thoughts trembling into a different darker world of possibilities. I felt Derik grip my arms to hold me steady, and I fell against him, allowing him to hold me.
Just for a little longer.
He had forced it upon me, forced me to understand. In the wake of my friend's death, I was left with a new sort of grief. I was bound to him and unless I conceded, what lay beneath the surface, that golden-eyed beast would attack more people. I didn't entirely understand why, but Derik had explained it as though because that side of the wolf was unfulfilled and his mate would not allow the connection, it became frenzied come full moon, and attacked on sight. I was overcome with this horrible sense of guilt; my rejection of Derik had led to death in two instances, and the second time had been an immense loss to my best friend; to a father, to a school, to a group of kids trying to have a good time.
I sat slumped at my desk, trying to pour myself into schoolwork (as the frost melted, our final HSC exams were fast approaching) to avoid thinking about the things I could have done differently, and wondering if Eve would still be here if I did. But nothing could distract me, not my mum and hot chocolates, not Sam and his half-hearted jokes which just didn't ring the same way anymore. Derik had begun to schedule visits too, and I had no choice but to miserably agree to them. News spread fast that we were an item, but I snorted at the thought that Derik was, in the eyes of everyone else, my 'boyfriend'. The word just seemed so ill fitting, like a little girl in her father's coat.
I heard the sound of a familiar engine turning the corner, and looked at the clock; 11am on a Saturday, just as we had agreed (or he had dictated). At the doorbell's tone, I plastered a readymade smile on my face and got to my feet. I couldn't bear the thought of my mum knowing I was unhappy with him. She had been charmed off her feet by him of course, with his foreign manners and toothy smile (little did she know where those teeth had been…) I knew it was important to maintain the façade that we were some normal teenage couple, stupid and in love. My mum, the terrier that she was, could sniff out the slightest whiff of discontent and corner me about it. And I couldn't tell her the truth; it was too terrible and unimaginable for her even to conceive. Better let her live in the blissful belief that her daughter had found comfort and love in a handsome well-to-do young man.
"Jenny!" Her voice rang out, and I glanced in the mirror before leaving the door; a little peaky, bags where they shouldn't be, but nothing a bright smile couldn't hide.
"Coming!" I replied, taking a deep breath and coaxing the smile to remain.
As I came down the stairs, my beaming mother was falling into the easy charisma of my 'boyfriend' (strange as that word was, I couldn't stand to use the other one; it was in a whole other land of messed up) who I walked up to and kissed on the cheek. This was a pattern now; one I knew off by heart. After waving goodbye to my smiling mother, so proud of her blossoming daughter who was nearly a woman, we got into the car and zoomed off. The drive, like usual, was silent. Derik kept one hand on the wheel and the other in my lap, stroking my hand, while I looked out the window.
Derik's house was out of town, in a secluded spot I was willing to bet he'd never brought anyone else before me. Towering pines hid it from sight, a renovated mansion with touches of modernism amongst the Victorian charm. As we walked inside, a thought occurred to me, and as we took our place on a fashionable chaise in the warm lounge room, classically decorated with sparse details, I opened my mouth to voice it.
"Derik?" I said tentatively, comfortably wrapped in his arms. The rumbling of his chest indicated he had heard me, though as I glanced behind, his eyes were blissfully shut. I continued. "What happens after?" He sighed, as if my questions were irritatingly interrupting his 'lying-down-with-Jenny' time.
"What do you mean?" He murmured, a wayward hand reaching upwards to play with my hair. I took a deep breath to ground myself; I was not going to allow myself to become distracted by his touch.
"I mean after school. What happens when I go to study law in the city?" The hand froze mid-play, and I knew with sinking discomfort that he had not at all considered my plans which for so long I had yearned to undertake. I disentangled myself from his grip and sat up to face him, a lounging god in his Olympus, his face stormy with wrath to match.
"I thought you would have realised by now. You will not be required to study after this year because I will provide you with everything you desire." His tone had this resounding finality to it, but I was not about to let myself be beaten. This man had already done enough of that for one lifetime.
"But what if I want more than that Derik? What if pursuing a career in the law is exactly what I want to do, and having the university experience is what I'm looking forward to?" My voice was rising now, and Derik sat up to mirror me, his expression darkening further.
"It is not what I want schat, and you will have to make peace with that! I going to be Alpha and I will not have my woman ordering me about!" I was stunned for a moment, mostly by the use of one of the Greek characters, but managed to get to my feet so I could scream at him from above.
"Are you even listening to yourself right now? You're behaving like some woman-hating dickhead who's stuck in the 18th century! I mean, hello? Women have the right to vote now. You do not get to decide anything for me!" I stepped back slightly as he rose, towering over me. What was printed across his face made me think back to the frightening rage he had worn on the night of the New Years' Eve party.
"After graduation, you will accompany me back to Queensland, where you will meet the pack. You will be affectionate, polite and charming. You will do as you're told." His voice was so dark and tainted with fury that was bubbling just below the surface, and I knew I couldn't say anything more.
So I left. I walked out of the beautiful double doors and into the warm spring air. I listened to the bird's hum of approval and the trees sway their mischievous leaves in the breeze and continued to walk. I heard Derik's shouts behind me, and didn't stop until I heard something quite distinctly.
"If you keep walking, someone else will pay schat!"
Tears welled furiously in my eyes, and I felt his presence at my shoulder. I hadn't realised he had been so close.
"You know full moon is coming up. If you spend it with me in my wolf form, and every moment possible until that moment, there will be no attacks." A hand curled around my waist, and with a defeated sob, I leaned against him, a feeling of calm rose in a small part of me.
But that small part was getting bigger. The part of me that fought, that struggled, was getting so tired, and wanted to give in to that other part of me.
That frightened me more than the thought of Derik turning into a snarling animal come full moon.
Sam came over the next day, and we feebly tried to study English together. I mostly just pretended to read some of my supplementary texts to look for quotes to use in my essays, while he made a tower of highlighters on a stack of photocopied sheets.
The thing was, things hadn't gone back to normal after Eve's death. I didn't expect them to, but we were tentative with each other. Jokes were shared without any real feeling or laughter, and our ever-lasting Scrabble game was packed away. We hadn't talked about that night at all. But worst of all, we hadn't talked about Eve. She was constantly in our thoughts, but we kept them to ourselves like we kept our grief to ourselves.
Sam wasn't even bemused by my new relationship with Derik. Sure, he asked me about it and made some stupid jokes about using protection (I really didn't need that sort of protection though; we hadn't progressed to anything further than holding each other and I was beginning to think I might need some heavier protection than condoms on the night of the full moon. Like a suit of armour maybe.)
But things were wrong between us. I desperately wanted to clear the air, to talk about our feelings and figure out what the problem was like I would have done months ago. But I wasn't the same Jenny anymore.
"So what do you sort of ensemble do you think Mrs Peters will throw together for the English exam? I'm thinking her world famous yellow Curious George outfit personally, but I know she tends to favour the puce family." Sam's voice cracked through our silence, and I smiled weakly at him.
"I don't know. She does like to throw on the old blue and green crisscross blouse and matching skirt. Oh, and we can't forget that tartan dress with the collar."
We continued to debate about the outfits of Mrs Peters, and how they ranked against each other, but between the jokes and familiar laughter there was something we both weren't saying.
I think about it now and it makes my chest ache that we never got to say it.
A/N: So there it is. Part II. I know it's short, but shush please and review :3 But seriously you guys, it's nearly done. I think. I'm really taking it one step at a time so I don't even know.
I was blown over by the response guys, thank you thank you thank you to everyone who reviewed! I replied to most of them, but I don't think I got to Renana who wrote an essay - YOU'RE AMAZEBALLS AND I LOVE YOU. one day I will get to fixing up grammar and such, but now it's mostly about whipping this baby out. More thanks to: Efra, beverlyamethyst16, Silver Witherwings, Rebel Dove, Carmel March, Bridgett-blahh, anon, DisturbingThePeace and jlr! Your lovely words definitely spurred me on to finish this :)
Review my pretties!
(the title of course comes from a song by the Arcade Fire.)