"Wait are you serious?" the voice in my head was stunned.
"Are YOU serious?! We’ve been at this for days and now you don’t believe me?!"
She laughs despite the seriousness of our conversation, "I’m proud of you," her words meant more than they should, "And I’m sorry about the measures I had to take. The pain it caused."
"It’s okay," I sighed, "I’m going to need your help on how to go about all this. It’s really new to me."
"It’ll be okay," Her reassurance is given generously, "But I think letting Emerson in on our plans would be a great start."
I nodded and a yawn ripped through me just as Charice reentered the hospital room with two items of clothing. I’m helped out of the desperate fabric and into fluffy sweatpants cushioned with wool. The sweatshirt was thick and weighed heavily on my bruised skin. Drowned in warmth the shiver in my bones slowed their hum, allowing the rest of my body to catch up.
"Much better," Charice smiles, placing a stray curl back in place, "Comfy?"
I nodded with a smile and Charice extended her arm for support as I hopped out of bed. She begins to lead me towards the exit when an unusual fear rushes through me. Fear of judgment. Hours earlier I was in a state that may have required an exorcist, how could I face them again? If there was any presence of doubt before by now it had to have bloomed into an entire garden.
Charice was nice but she might be an anomaly. What parents would want their son to be in a relationship with such a mentally stunted—?
"Not that I’m not loving the sound of self-deprecating loathing," the voice pops up yet it’s Charice who pauses for a moment, straightening up as though she heard the voice as well, "But how about you stop being so judgmental and just go see Emerson?"
She had a point. So with a sigh of courage I limped alongside Charice as we headed out into the hallway. She was being patient with me and I appreciated it. One step for her required two or three struggling stumbles from me but she just slowed her movements and provided more support. We rounded to corner leading to the dining room and instantly all eyes landed on me.
For a second, all I could hear was my laborious breathing along with the percussion of my heart. My wrist shook but I pinched my eyes closed and released a calm breath. It’ll be okay.
I hear her before my eyes open to Chelsea rushing over to me with open arms, "Oh sweetheart," she pulls my body into hers causing a particular ache in my lower back but I was too stunned to pay attention to it, "Thank the moon you’re okay."
It was after she pulled away to look at—no, admire my face that I noticed the tears rimming against thick eyelashes. The terror in the back of her blue green eyes calmed its storm, fading to relief as she strokes my cheek. She was a mother at heart, one who was protective and strong. One who was afraid that her son had lost the only thing that made him happy. I looked back at her, confused by the series of emotions she forced me to acknowledge. Maybe I was downplaying this entire thing. What if I had left? What if they do care about me? What if Emerson is the one for me?
My mouth opens in hope of responding to her greeting, to soothe her fears but suddenly my body is bathed in a heat of reactions. First, a tingling creeps up my neck and settles to the back of my head then my stomach begins to tie itself in knots. Emerson. I whipped my head in his direction, completely negligent of my injuries. If I could run—or better yet, stand on my own I would already be in his arms.
Instead I was here waiting on him to take the hint. As if reading my thoughts he makes a beautiful huff of laughter before taking two large— normal steps wrapping his arms around me. I fell into his embrace, no longer needing Charice’s support I allowed the entirety of my body’s mass to lay on his.
I can only raise my arms high enough to latch around his waist and an unearthly peace settles in the air around us when they do. It reminded me of state I would be in when speaking to that voice in my head. There were no pains or aches, just silent communication, and right now all I understood was that this is where I always wanted to be.
"You scared me, princess" his voice was muffled in my hair. I was too overwhelmed to snap at the hated nickname. My arms fastened and I took in his scent, cedarwood and saltwater.
"Sorry," I mumble against his chest.
I feel the formation of his smile just on the crook of my neck right before he pulls away to plant a kiss on my forehead. The small gesture propelled my body into a frenzy that made my fingers and toes tingle. It was terrifying and beautiful.
"Now we can eat," Victor jokes further away making everyone laugh as they shuffled to get warmed food on the table. Smiling I sink deeper into Emerson’s chest and he rubs up and down my arms as if to warm my already heated body. I wished to stay in his protection a bit longer but his growling stomach reminded me that he’d been worried all day.
Smiling up at him I rest my chin against his chest, my new pillow. He showed no signs of hunger despite the powerful growl from his gut and it made me smile. I knew never to trust his facial expressions, he even told me that his job trained him to always look ruthless. So now I stroked his cheek and said a soft, "Let’s eat."
He all but carries me to my seat and I settled as comfortably as my deteriorating body could. Once there everyone seems to release a breath of relief and conversations of camaraderie begin. The table was already set and only a few items needed to be reheated. Food is passed around and despite the fact that I hadn’t eaten anything all day, there was no appetite, better yet hunger. Gentle conversation is mentioned back and forth before Chance addressed me directly, "Not hungry?" He gestures to my empty plate.
I shook my head with an honest smile, "Not really," I look over at Chelsea and Victor who both eyed me with worry. They had no clue what happened, no details on anything I was going through, yet they never mentioned a word. The only punishment I received was a hug that pushed my broken pieces a little closer together. I had to do something, anything.
With one gulp, my fear is pushed deeper into my body before facing them and mustering the courage to look in their faces, "I-I um...planned on apologizing until…I was blue in the face for everything that’s happened s-since I got here, but I know you," Their eyes widened in surprise, stunned at my words, "You wouldn’t accept it because you’d think it was unnecessary," To my horror the entire table focused in on our conversation, I push my nerves to the side, concealing my shaky wrist in my lap, "So instead I’d like to thank you, everyone really," for a second I make eye contact with everyone else at the table. Gavin, Anthony and Cody all provided breath-taking smiles, Chance nodded with a wide grin and Charice winked, "But especially you both, for welcoming me into your home without...without question. It’s a generosity like nothing I’ve ever experienced and one day I’ll trick you into taking some level of repayment for it," Victor laughs at this.
"Oh your presence is payment enough darling," Chelsea reaches over Emerson’s body to take my trembling hand in her perfect hard-working one's, "You’re a joy."
"And you pack quite a punch too," Gavin mumbles smirking at Emerson, "Isn’t that right hotshot?"
My eyes widened, I had completely forgotten, "Oh yeah, I heard I punched you!"
"You heard?!" He faces me with steak sauce smudged on the corner of his mouth.
"I didn’t know," I shrugged reaching for a napkin and wiping his mouth, "I’m sorry." I pout up at him.
"Yeah, yeah, keep your apologies," I gasped with my mouth hanging open as an avoidable smile paints itself on my face.
"See I told you," Charice tsks, "This is why we," She gestures between us, "Are the only ones that can support each other. Cause these fakers! Will defend each other to the death."
"Relax drama queen," Cody shakes his head dishing out more mashed potatoes.
"I totally agree," Nodding I reached for some of Emerson’s rice, "From now on its you and me."
"Wouldn’t have it any other way babe," She winks and our laughter causes a warmth to spread in my chest.
"Did we miss a scene in this Hallmark movie or?" Anthony’s whisper caused the table to erupt in laughter.
"Let’s just say that something truly magical happens when two girls share an intimate moment and exchange clothes," I smiled over at her ready with a comeback when a wave of dizziness passes.
"Maybe after this special encounter you can convince her to let me take her shopping," Emerson glances at me with mischief in his gaze.
"Now that’s a sentence for the books," Victor exclaims happily but the room had started spinning, "Most people are trying ...get their mat... to stop shopping."
"I think you should get some rest," The voice mentions concerned, "I forget how fragile human bodies can get."
Human bodies? What other bodies are there? Images of the giant paw in my mind flashes to the front of my mind.
"Just try to get some sleep," she says with a sweet smile in her tone.
"You okay Adira?" Chance asks from across the table. His head tilted slightly to the left, eyes focused on mine as though he could perform an x-ray or MRI by looking long enough.
Nevertheless I nodded and whispered an honest, "I’m just tired."
This worries Emerson enough to look me over, with the limited view he had. Somehow I managed to use his arm as a pillow, resting my head on it resulting in his using only one hand to eat with. His stomach growls on, "Sorry about— "
"I’ll take you to bed," He jumps to his feet, wiping his hands in a napkin, then the corners of his mouth.
"If you have trouble sleeping let me know and I’ll administer some melatonin," Chance mentions concerned, "With the induced coma your body’s sleep cycle might be thrown off."
"How would she let you know?" Gavin asks wisely.
"Will you at least allow me to get you a phone?" Emerson asks hesitantly, "I could head to the store after dinner."
My insides tied themselves in knots, "Emerson, it’s so much money," My pout makes him smile and he lifts me to my feet.
"Consider it a birthday present?" He pulls all the stops.
"Your birthday is coming up?!" Anthony all but yells.
"Oh we need to call the caterer," Chelsea gasps gripping Victor’s forearm.
"No, her birthday was 4 months ago," Exactly four months ago, "And I never got you anything, so let this be it."
I try to think my way out of it, but I was bubbling with excitement and tire, "Emerson," He stops attempting to lift me, "I...I want to stay."
His eyes go hard, "Adira you can barely stand up, I’m not leaving you here—"
I couldn’t stop the laugh that left me, "No no," He picked me up and the way my arms wrap around his neck are frustrating and beautiful. He started moving all while I tried to get words to cohesively leave my lips, "I...mean..M..mean..I..I want t—"
"Hold that thought babe," It looks like the cleaners may have locked your door again," He says frustrated, "I’m going to head for an extra key downstairs,are you okay to wait here for a little?"
I nodded with my eyes closed and he leans me against the huge window in the hallways leading to our bedrooms. It was my favorite window. If I were more advanced artistically I’d spend hours trying to paint it. I’d write a sonnet, compose a symphony, something!
The endlessness of the trees leading to the foot of the mountain made me feel as though I was drowning. The light sprinkle of snow dusted the tops and ends of long brow branches. The evergreens still have green leaves while everyone else shivered in cold nakedness. Then there was you. With the golden eyes. Ever Present right in the middle of it all. Your eyes are so bright I fear the kindling it might cause amidst all the wood. You could easily light the forest on fire, but instead you focus on me.
I said I would meet you before but to no avail.
I should take my promises more seriously.
I’ll see you tonigh—
"Got it," Emerson’s voice sounds at the end of the hallway, "You okay?" He gives a short laugh and I turn to face him. Hazel-blue eyes. No fire.
I nod drowsily and was guided to my room. I’m sure Emerson was saying something but I couldn’t make anything out. So when the pillow hit my head, I was confused. Soon my body was tucked under the covers and the lamp was flipped off.
I’ll see you tonight.
I wasn’t sure if I was having a dream or not. Instead of a flow of videos or thoughts, I experience a flood of still, blurry images. One's that didn’t connect. All the while, golden eyes were present in some way but the images themselves were...traumatic. They were happy, then soaked in blood and accompanied by unsourced screams. Sadistic laughter threw my body into a frenzy of fits, I wasn’t sure if I was having a panic attack or not. I felt tears and heard gut-wrenching sobs.
My frustration peaked and I managed to step out of the muck of my reality. I took an escape, through the woods, to the land of fantasy. The space was icy but I was warm, there was a fire nearby. Behind...no inside the flame was a perfect pair of golden eyes. They laughed with me and though the space of my trauma was just a few steps away— I could hear the faint echo of screams— I felt completely safe here.
I sat by the fire and felt an ease. The eyes raise above me, far above. THis beast was huge. Huge and perfect. I smiled, but then there was a scream.
"Adira! Where the fuck are you?!" It was my father.
I looked from the trauma space and through the fire only to realize I was alone. No, no no! Where’d you go?! I was screaming!
Golden eyes. Golden eyes. Emerson. Paws and growls.
"I’ll protect you forever," A woman sings down to a babe in a crib. A baby girl with loose curly hair and a dimpled smile. The babe giggles in response and the woman smiles even brighter, "I love you."
My body is pushed forward, the ground moves a steady pace beneath my feet, slowly accelerating until I was running. Running where? It doesn’t matter. More running. I need to go see the eyes, they’ll have an answer. Maybe it would all make sense if they told me.
Who was that?
I look forward and see the eyes in the distance. They looked more agitated, but I knew I’d be safe there. It was a few feet away, wait how’d that happen? They’re running to me too. Finally, some answers.
The truth about Emerson and this millionaire family.
"Adira wait!" Emerson’s voice made me stop running. I was confused. Not because nothing made sense, but because while I was running towards the eyes, a piece of me thought, felt as though I was running to...Emerson. Why would I think that? Nothing was adding up.
My legs freeze up and for the first time since this bizarre dream started I was able to feel something other than tears. There was wind, a frosty one. It ran down my spine and made me want to start running again. Dream or not I was in danger.
"Adira, why don’t you believe me?" The mother’s voice repeats it’s mantra, "I’ll protect you forever."
I woke up gasping for air, my legs pounding as though I was in fact running. Chester was asleep by my feet and despite the slap of fear, I was still determined to see those eyes. They had to have answers. To the left my window was wide open, a gentle breeze pushing through and blowing my curtains to the side. I was drenched in sweat.
I needed to go.
I push myself up to rest my back against the headboard. It was 2:13 in the morning, meaning everyone was probably asleep, but I had to be careful. I slid out of bed holding in my whimpers of pain so as not to wake up Chester. Walking over to my door, I cracked it open, peeking out to see if my assumptions were right. I heard some mumbling, then saw as Anthony stumbled down the hallway and into Charice’s room for the night. Their room. I wonder if Emerson and I would have our own—
There was a hiss that made my ears burn. Okay. Okay.
I shake away any side-tracking as my blood is replaced with nothing but pure adrenaline despite the pounding that was in my skull. My deteriorating body could be no obstacle for this mission. Those eyes, they knew something. I need to see them, breathe them in, let their silky gold soak my skin.
A smile paints itself on my lips at the satisfaction I would receive in just a few minutes. As though all the slumber in the house activated at once, a stillness seemed to wash over me. My smile broadens and I slid into some socks to keep my feet warm. In my dream I was foolishly barefoot, I knew what I was doing this time around. I quietly pushed the door open and closed it just as stealthily being careful to not wake Chester. I tiptoed over to the window for two reasons: my body needed a break from standing then making 5 small steps and I had to make sure the eyes were still there. I received confirmation with a gentle twinkle then a direction. To the left.
They’d be in the backyard then, just through the solarium. It wasn’t far. I had to start with the stairs then make a right by the kitchen and a left through the wooden doors of the solarium. I take a deep breath and started on my journey.
Instantly the need to distract myself from the constant pain in my body became pertinent. So I developed a sense of hyper reactivity, thinking up possible explanations for if I was caught.
"I was getting water," I’d say innocently, "I didn’t want to bother anyone."
I was halfway down the staircase. Or maybe a, "I couldn’t sleep so decided to stretch and take a walk."
I was already done, wow. That wasn’t so bad. Well, if I ignored the fact that I sweat through my clothes and that my joints were pulsing in pain. No! No sidetracking! I followed the path I determined earlier, excitement building as I came closer and closer to finally getting this.
The solarium was a space of peace and comfort. I’d journal here on days that were particularly troubling. Time seemed to still when I was able to look out at the 180 degree view. It was the uninterrupted glass that made it so magical. It created a sense of transparency that was near invisible, so much so that one became a part of the world around them in this peaceful space.
I walk over to the door that separated the two worlds and opened it carefully. The 4 inches of snow that gathered in the backyard was untouched, steering left to the manicured garden and right to a swing set attached to a huge oak tree. Further behind the swing marked the end of their property, a wire fence.
I walk up to the fence looking out and around to see if I’d be able to spot those eyes again. Finally, up close. Maybe even their owner. A cold breeze rushes towards me and I tighten my bare arms around each other anxiously searching for my target. I look all around, up in the trees and down in the forest, behind some bushes and over the twists and turns of what was around me, but nothing. Suddenly, I heard a twig snap in front of me and there they are! Those luminescent, celestial eyes! I sighed in relief, moaning almost as they pulled me forward. They wanted me to join them and though I craved them I couldn’t do that.
I planned to sit in the snow all night, until the sun rose just looking at them, gazing into them but it seems as though they had other plans. Despite the fact that I hadn’t moved I saw the eyes come closer, and that’s when I realized they weren’t…. normal. Their irises..moved? Crawled against the stillness of white. Then they were entirely gold with the depth of an ocean. The closer they came to the fence the larger they grew.
Fear ripped through me instantly reminding me of my dream. Maybe these eyes were the things to be feared. I was to run away from them, to Emerson. But it was too late now. I wanted to scream but nothing came out. The cold made my blood ice, again.
I begin a slow retreat, but that only seems to give reason for the eyes to come toward me more quickly. At this distance I was able to notice the convoluted mania in the colored part—the entirety—of their eyes. Beauty became cynical and soon a smile grew beneath these daggered eyes. My mind froze, not even capable of forcing me into an anxiety attack, no distractions.
My eyes widened at the sight of the number of crooked teeth in a Cheshire Cat smile. They were humongous, canines larger than the length of my hand, from fingertip to wrist, eyes the size of my fist and a growl that caused my bones to shake.
What was this?! The fire in its eyes made me dizzy in pain, so many possibilities. I fell backwards into the snow, still attempting to crawl away from this beast. It’s head must have brushed a branch because snow came falling down giving more detail to what exactly it was. My wrists shook and as it stalked out from the shadowed blanket of the woods and into the moonlight of the backyard, just beyond the fence. It had to be 7 feet tall with fur that was thick and seemed to weigh its body down.
Behind me, in the house I heard Chester’s barking but couldn’t, wouldn’t take my eyes off the monster before me.
My breathing became labored, my entire body shook, and it wasn’t because it was cold. I hear the back door open and slam close as feet rush across the solarium and into the snow, some to me other’s….. to that animal! Why would they run toward it!? Despite my confusion I never looked away. It could lunge at any moment.
In my peripheral vision I catch Emerson, his hands on the fence ready to jump over as he got in the animal’s face. Luckily, Victor and Chance managed to pull him back and to my surprise the animal cowered, lowering its huge head to ground. Paws shamefully covered its eyes but Emerson’s anger only doubled at the act of defeat. Eventually the beast jogged away leaving large marks on the untouched snow around.
"Come on sweetie," It was Chelsea’s voice that took me out of shock. She reaches down to hold my trembling body but I could barely help her. I was dead weight and now I was in pain.
My hands gripped the snow beneath my body in an attempt to stop the shaking in my wrist. I can’t stop seeing that…that...monster. What if it came back?
"I got her," Emerson sounded distant but I knew he was close. Soon he stoops down to face me, and I know what to expect. When your sick and bruised girlfriend sneaks out of the house and it looks as though she’s caught in a failed escape attempt, the reaction is normally anger. It should be anger. He should be angry. That’s not what I see, instead he’s worried, minutely irritated. Relief floods my chest so much so that my body began to react to what my mind was still failing to process. Finally I understand the depth of the danger I was in, and I lose myself.
I fling my body forward into his arms and he seems to hold me as tightly as I held him. Warm tears rushed down my cheeks and I buried my face in his shirt.
"It’s okay," Emerson soothes me but I can’t open my eyes, I can’t relax. I can’t breathe. He lifts my body to carry me inside and that is when I feel his warmth that I realized how frigid I was. I glanced through my tears at my hands and recognized the blue that ran straight down to the middle of all my fingers. I couldn’t feel them, better yet move them.
We rush through the solarium heading to the fire place by the entrance way. There Emerson lays me down on the couch, backing away to get a blanket but I panic, "No!" my grip on his shirt is deathly, and painful.
"Dee, I’m just getting a blan—"
"No! Don’t leave. D-d-don’t leave," I beg holding him near and shaking my head in his chest.
"Okay," He nods, "Okay."
He settles me in his lap and I bury my face in the crook of his neck, tears still flowing down my cheeks. My whimpers and aches were soothed by Emerson’s soft words of reassurance, and a gentle stroke of his hand against my back. Those eyes were more terrifying than my father’s and that’s saying something. It couldn’t have been a regular wolf or snow animal. So what was that? And how did it find me? Why did I mindlessly follow it outside? What was it going to do? My body shakes with a tremor and I squeeze my eyes shut trying to block out the images that seem to have already sewn themselves into my memory.
Someone tosses a blanket over my body but for a moment it threw me in a deep panic, the darkness was now a trigger. Tears ripped through my chest painfully and I grab hold of Emerson’s body to regulate the spinning.
"Baby, it’s fine," He whispers, "You’re safe now."
I continued shaking and someone else walked in and placed a heater nearby. Another handed Emerson a box of tissues that he uses to wipe my cheeks and runny nose. I shiver continuously and pushed deeper into his body. I would never be okay, not after this. What was that? What happened to me? Why did I do that to myself?
"Okay," Emerson sighs pulling away from me, "Did you hear what Chance has been saying?"
He was speaking? I shook my head, he doesn’t seem surprised, "Well you seemed to have been outside for a while and before he can give you a check up we need to get your body temperature up. So I’m going to bring you up to your room—"
"No no no," I shook my head, squeezing my eyes shut in his chest again.
"Okay," He was quick, "My room?" I was more relaxed at that thought, "Alright my room, and we’ll try to get your temperature back up. I’ll stay with you the entire time."
I nodded and took a staggered breath as my hysterical crying calmed down to a gentle tremble. Regardless of what that was, It was still out there, and now it knew where I was, what if it—
"Hey," Emerson’s voice cuts my panic in half, "Look at me," His eyes were hard, now upset though not at me, "I won’t let anyone hurt you. Do you understand that?"
"B-but w-w-what if—"
"Adira," He was being stern, "I can’t stress this enough. No one, absolutely no one is going to hurt you. With me you’re always safe."
Banyana: That's a really great guess. and really impacted how I framed a future chapter so stay tuned ;) What do you think about this one.
Anonymous: Thank you for the feedback, thoughts here? And great guess
Anonymous: Lol here it is, I'll be quicker next time.
Anonymous: That's an awesome guess. What are your thoughts here?