“Lee! Wait up.”
She stopped and waited while he clumsily gathered up his stuff and shoved it into his back pack. He trotted up to her side and looked at her. She seemed so incredibly sad. He always wondered what she had seen that had marked her so. Even with all he was and had to deal with, he never felt as sad as she always looked.
“Come on,” she said, giving him a weak smile.
She took his hand and lead him out of the class room and out into the sunlight. The day was hot but the breeze cut it down. The campus was hollow during the summer session. Almost no one moved around them, just the others that had poured out of British Literature. Spending summer in class was a little slice of hell. He still wasn’t sure how Lee had conned him into taking the course with her.
He followed her down the narrow path leading into the woods framing the campus. She liked to walk through the woods most days. Kevin never really understood her liking for nature; he’d had enough of it himself. He’d be happy to live comfortably in the stone and steel of the cities. But whatever, he could walk with her. He let her easily glide in front of him; the path really was only wide enough for one. He watched the delicate sway of her hips and the swish of her long red locks. He wondered if she realized how incredibly beautiful she was.
Lee dug into her pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit up. She roughly shoved the pack back into her pocket and took a long drag.
“Have you ever felt like you were living a lie?”
Her words surprised him. Did she suspect? How could she? She was so different than everyone else, which made everything seem possible with her. His wolf had warned him to be wary of her, but he’d thought that he’d known better. And now?
“Sometimes,” he said, his voice flat. “Doesn’t everyone?”
She gave no answer. They came out into the parking lot and she hopped up on the side walk.
“You want a ride home?” he asked.
“Can we go somewhere else? I’m not sure I’m ready to go home yet.” She smiled weakly at him.
“Sure, we could hang at my place,” he offered.
She climbed into his car. He drove, thinking about everything and what it could all mean. He was sure that he was over thinking it. The drive slipped away in silence. He pulled into a bumpy dirt drive way and parked beside a dilapidated trailer. The other trailers in the row looked just as bad. Mini shit town.
“Not much, but it’s comfortable.”
She snorted out a small laugh.
“Anything has to be better then living in a little apartment, crammed into a building with Nick as a room mate,” she said, rolling her eyes.
He opened the car door for her and then the front door to the trailer. It led them into a small living room that held a beat up couch, a stained coffee table and a TV. She took the room in with a single scan and laid her hand on the TV stand.
“You want some coffee or something? I think I have some Coke,” he asked as he closed the door.
She dropped her bag by the couch and sat down. She sunk farther into it than she expected and laughed.
“Sorry, should have warned you,” Kevin said, smiling.
“No, it’s OK.” Lee smiled back and resettled herself into the couch.
“Regular OK?” he asked as he headed into the kitchen.
“Yeah. Can I smoke?”
“Yeah, there should be an ashtray on the TV. If not, I can grab you one from in here.”
“Got it,” she called.
She snagged the ashtray with a smile and set it on the coffee table. She took the first drag in a great deep breath, as if she had been drowning. The place was simple, about the same as her place.
Kevin returned with two cups of steaming coffee. He handed her one and sat down. She leaned against him and he wrapped his arm around her shoulders. They both sipped at their coffee. A few minutes passed before Kevin wondered how he’d ended up holding her. It felt so right and natural. He sighed. What could he do about it now? It seemed harmless enough. Lee was starting to fall asleep when the door crashed open. She jerked upright and stared in surprise.
Nick and Chris came into the room, laughing and mock wrestling. Nick froze when he saw Lee.
“Hi,” Nick said.
“Hi,” Lee said.
Chris closed the door and flashed his best grin. “Please, don’t fight,” Chris said; his speech was slurred.
“You’ve been drinking,” Lee stated.
“And you’re smoking.” Nick pointed at the mostly burned cigarette in her hand.
She crushed it out, “Yeah, I am.” She lit up another one and took a dramatically long drag. She rolled the cigarette between her fingers. Nick kicked off his shoes and ran his fingers through his green hair.
“You two a thing now?” Nick asked.
Lee said nothing.
Nick nodded, then he and Chris disappeared into Chris’s room, the door slamming behind them. Music boomed out shortly after.
“What was that all about?” Kevin asked.
“You know Nick,” Lee said, avoiding the question. Kevin wasn’t sure he should push it. Not today anyway. But he really did need to know what he had just stepped into.
“I need to go to bed soon. I have early classes tomorrow. You want to stay here or do you want a ride home?” he asked
“I’ll stay here.” She shrugged.
“You can sleep in my room, I’ll take the couch.” Kevin pulled a blanket and pillow from under the couch.
“You just keep those under the couch?” she asked.
“People frequently crash here. Seems easier then trying to find a set every time,” he explained and gave a weak laugh. He did feel like explaining why there were always people coming over. That was the awkward part.
“I can sleep on the couch,” she said, tugging on the pillow.
He sighed and she shrugged.
“You can sleep in my room,” he repeated.
He took her hand and lead her the two steps to his room, swinging the door open.
“Well, well,” she said as she stepped in.
“What?” he asked.
“I expected it to be the usual disorderly shrine to stupidity that most every guy has.” She winked at him.
“You could ask to sleep in Chris’s room.” He smiled.
“Help yourself to whatever,” he said with a twirling gesture of his hand.
He closed the door.
She was alone. She felt odd, like an intruder.
The bed was small and against a wall. Rows of book shelves were filled with a wide variety of topics. The walls were covered with sketches and drawings of wolves, werewolves and human anatomy. They were strange, but well drawn. She wondered if he had done them himself. His desk was covered with half-finished drawings and books. She flipped through the pages. They were filled with his careful hand writing and more sketches. A small jar of candy was squatting in one corner, filled with nips. She smiled. He was a coffee addict to the end. She opened the jar and took a candy.
She unwrapped it as she went to his dresser. She popped the candy into her mouth and then slid out the top drawer. There were several sets of soft flannel pajamas and several pairs of cotton boxers. Matched folded socks were lined up in a row. White under shirts stacked up next to the socks. Very practical.
She undressed; leaving her clothes in a heap in front of the dresser, making sure to leave her bra and under wear on the top of the pile. She pulled out a set of pajama bottoms and an undershirt. It felt a little sinful to don his clothing, but he had said that she could help herself. Somehow the idea of not having on underwear was the best part of it. She smiled about that. It was silly.
She climbed into the bed and huddled up underneath the blankets. There were six of them. It was summer. She pulled them back so that she was only under the sheet. The bed smelled clean and seemed as though it hadn’t been slept in. She couldn’t help finding that weird. But, she washed her bedding once a week. Why was it weird for someone else to have a clean bed?
Dipak looked out over the quiet grove. Rubbing her fingers against her temples, she closed her eyes. Jacob touched the back of her neck gently.
“We have to call her here,” Jacob said.
“Do you think you’re strong enough?” Dipak asked.
She rubbed her hands over her face. They’d had this conversation a thousand times. Always, Dipak insisted on waiting and Jacob had agreed. Dipak had always waited and the next Tree Spirit had always come.
“There isn’t any more time for waiting,” Jacob said.
“I can hold out a little longer,” Dipak said with a tremble in her voice.
“And then what?”
Jacob took Dipak by the shoulders and turned her so that her body was facing his, but she didn’t open her eyes.
“Then what? Will the Tree Spirit magically make you all better? Is that what you think?” Jacob asked.
Dipak’s eyes flicked open and she growled.
“Then what?” Jacob asked again.
“Then I bind the Tree. That’s what I do Jacob. It’s what I’m born for,” she spat.
“And if you fall apart?” His voice was soft.
“Then I die. And I’m born again.” She rubbed her eyes.
“Then what?” Jacob whispered.
“Then the fucking same thing, Jacob!” she yelled, swatting at his hands. But he didn’t let her go. The tears were heavy in her eyes and her breathing was ragged.
“It’s always the fucking same thing!” she screamed it, leaning close to his face and baring her teeth. Saliva speckled onto his face. She clenched her hands into her fists and her claws slid out.
Pressing in the back of her skull was the beating drum of the past.
“Raven fucking died!” she screeched and then added “My name isn’t horse!”
Pulling at her hair and digging at her arms with her finger nails, she tore open her skin with the claws that she left extended. Oily black blood oozed poured out onto her white skin and she wailed.
“Enaid wasn’t supposed to die!”
Her knees gave out from beneath her and she sobbed. Jacob caught her weight in his arms and lowered her down. He sat and cradled her.
“Do you love me?” she asked.
“Because I was Horse and you were Raven?” she asked.
“Because we are us,” he whispered.
“I don’t think I am me any more. I don’t think this me ever was.”
She held up her hand and looked at it a moment, letting her blood drip from her claws. Then she slid the weapons away, leaving the blood smeared between her fingers where the claws had passed.
“We have to call her here,” Jacob said.
“And then what?” Dipak asked.
“Then you bind the Tree. Then we leave here and we find the answer to whatever is going on with you,” Jacob said.
Lee shot up in bed, waking to her own scream.
Kevin took her into his arms and protectively cradled her against his chest. She wasn’t sure where he’d come from. Where was Nick?
She clutched at him, weeping. She couldn’t stop seeing the face of the man in her dream. He was young and seemed so kind. But there had been a demon behind him, something dark and terrible.
“Shh… It was just a dream. You’re safe. Only a dream,” Kevin murmured.
“He was looking for me…” she whispered, still not fully awake from the dream. It clung to her like a mist over her brain.
Nick pushed Kevin away and took Lee into his arms.
“Lee, you’re alright,” Nick said. He brushed her hair from her forehead with surprising gentleness.
“I’m here now.” He continued to whisper softly against her hair, making sounds that seemed like sounds but that made no sense.
Kevin felt out of place; an intruder in his own bedroom.
“I was hunted. No. But he was looking for me and he found me,” Lee said.
Chris came into the room, wearing only his boxers. He yawned and rubbed at his eyes, “What’s all the commotion about?”
“Hush,” Kevin whispered.
“I need to be planted,” she said. She seemed to be talking in her sleep.
“No. It’s just a dream. He can’t hurt you,” Nick whispered.
Nick kept petting Lee’s hair and quickly looked up at Kevin, but then averted his eyes just as quick. His eyes were wide and his pupils dilated. Sweat painted a thin film on his fore head. Kevin wondered who Nick was trying to reassure.
“He was close enough that I saw his face.” She looked at Nick, tears filling her eyes.
“Damn,” Nick muttered. He took Lee’s hand. “I will figure something out. I won’t let him find you.” Nick got up and looked at Kevin. “Protect her tonight.” Nick didn’t wait for a response, just went into the living room, got his coat and went to the door. Then he slipped out into the night.
“How weird was that?” Chris asked.
What was he supposed to say? Commenting on the weirdness of it was bound to only alienate Lee and she needed them now. He didn’t know what was going on, but he could sense how fragile she was.
“Think I should go after him? Or do you think he meant for both of us to protect her? And from what?” Chris turned towards the door, but made no move to leave the room.
“I really wish you knew when to shut up,” Kevin said, giving Chris a glare.
“What did I say?” Chris threw his hands up and then let them fall to his side limply.
Kevin sat on the bed next to Lee. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Lee wrapped herself up in the blankets and lay back down on the bed. She sighed.
Kevin went to the living room and looked out the window. Nick was nowhere in sight. Both cars were still in the driveway. He lit one of Lee’s cigarettes and took a long drag. Poison never felt so good.
“I thought you quit.” Chris came up next to him.
Kevin glared at him. He shook his head.
“I did,” he muttered.
He scooped up the ashtray and picked up Lee’s pack of cigarettes. He’d buy her another pack tomorrow. He went to his room and closed the door in Chris’s face. He felt bad about it for a moment and then pushed it aside. There was too much else to deal with tonight. He couldn’t coddle Chris’s feelings this time. Kevin sat down on the floor and leaned against the door. He stared at Lee, laying curled up under the blankets, and wondered what secrets hid behind those closed eyes.
“We can’t get caught up in this.” His wolf warned him in his usual growl.
Kevin gave no response, simply continued to replay the events in his head in search of further understanding. Kevin’s thoughts lead him to an empty pack of cigarettes and the early morning light, but he still hadn’t puzzled out any answers.