Being Red: Chapter Fifteen

After my late-night rendezvous with Kellan, my heart is no longer in this girls’ weekend. It seems so frivolous now against the backdrop of my new reality, and I want nothing more than to cut our trip short, maybe even throw myself back into work.

When I emerge from my room in the morning, I do my best to keep up appearances, but I can tell that Henley knows something is wrong. Luckily, she seems to believe my sudden lack of enthusiasm is on account of my nightmares. Not only am I unable to tell her the truth, but I don’t feel like talking much anyway. In the end it doesn’t matter because Henley is content to relax beyond the watchful eye of her brother, and she doesn’t pry as we take advantage of the amenities the cabin has to offer. She rests with her eyes closed and head reclined as we hottub well into the evening, and I try not to stare at her while wondering how much she knows and overanalyzing every detail of every moment I can recall of my life up until this point.

I do my best to inject some pep into my attitude, which inevitably falls slightly flat, and the rest of our girls’ weekend passes in a blur.

I am relieved when we finally arrive back at my house, the music having ended hours ago while Henley slept and the silence having given me too much time to once again overthink everything. I gently wake Henley from her doze in the passenger seat and see her off with her things. Then I trudge up the steps with my own bags. 

Before I can fumble my key into the lock, the door opens, and Hayden wraps me in a tight hug.

“God, I missed you, babe,” he says into my hair.

My first thought is that it’s a lie. It’s too perfect, like a movie. Gregor knows all, sees all, controls all. And he’s the one writing the script. Hayden is just following orders to keep me pinned right where Gregor wants me.

I play my part and hug Hayden back, glad I only feel awkward on the inside as I force my body to respond naturally to his touch and silently work to sort out my feelings. Because even though this is all a sham, I wish we could fall back into our comfortable relationship like I put on my favorite sweatshirt to get cozy before bed. Rationally, I know that’s impossible now. Knowing doesn’t make it any easier. What we had was real once, at least to me, and right as I was beginning to believe that spark between us was within reach again, the truth I learned this weekend sealed our fate. I know our love is not strong enough to survive this.

Not when I am the very thing Hayden hates most, the creature he has dedicated his life to exterminating with as little thought as vermin.

What I never knew was that Hayden is such a good actor. I wonder if Henley has a part to play too or if she is just collateral damage in this elaborate scheme. Henley has always seemed so genuine to me. She wears her heart on her sleeve, unable to hide her inner self the way she must to survive in this rough and terrible line of work, and she maintains an air of innocence entirely absent in her brother. If her attributes alone were not enough evidence, then surely Hayden’s protectiveness over her confirms it.

But I just don’t know anymore. Nothing is as it once seemed. Everything I thought I knew is turned on its head.

I want to scream, but I use the rush of emotion to hug Hayden back harder. He can’t know that I know, and if this line of work has taught me anything, it’s that most everything is for show. And I can act too. Gregor made sure of it while grooming his perfect weapon.

I kiss Hayden’s neck, wondering if he knows how close to death he is at this very moment. If I knew how to summon my fangs, that is. Or perhaps Gregor has left him in the dark, manipulated him, just as he has me and countless others. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. All that is relevant now is that I know: what Gregor did, what I am, and that somehow, I have the power to stop this.

How?

I don’t have a clue. Yet.

I let Hayden grab my bags from me and lead me inside where I have a lot more work to do to convince him that I missed him just as much as he says he missed me.

***

It is more difficult to fall asleep than I expected it would be after an evening of primarily physical activity. I’d like to blame Hayden’s snoring, but it’s his presence beside me and the weight of him depressing the bed and slowly pulling me into his gravity that have me on edge. They are a constant reminder that I am lying in the bed of my enemy. Whether he knows it or not. I’m still on the fence, but I wonder how he could possibly know when he caressed my body so lovingly just hours ago, fell asleep so quickly, and even now sleeps so fitfully only inches away. Maybe he’s simply grown comfortable. Or he’s grown complacent. Like Siegfried and Roy.

My eyelids grow heavy, and eventually I succumb to sleep where my dream ensnares me almost immediately.

I crouch in the hamper as always after my mom slips from the room. I am more impatient than afraid this time, waiting for Kellan to help me out of my prison as I have come to expect. It feels like forever, but finally he is here, offering his fingers. I grab them greedily, hauling myself out of the hamper and into my adult body. His fingers linger on mine before he releases me to stand on my own.

Something feels different this time. I don’t know what it is, and apprehension warms my belly. I step nearer to Kellan, and I calm. Whatever is to come, I know he will face it at my side. This time, I won’t tell him to run. I know he won’t listen anyway, and it feels good to have someone on my side who knows all my dark secrets and accepts me anyway. I turn towards the door, feeling Kellan’s body turn in tandem with mine, and wait.

We don’t have to stand there long before Gregor enters the room. His lips pull away from his teeth, his grin a predatory thing as he releases the door handle which looks small and almost comedic in his thick hand.

“I’ve been looking for you, my little Red,” he says as if he still sees me as the scared, naive child I was.

His voice gives me goosebumps like the sound of nails on a chalkboard even though his tone is far deeper. I want to spit on him, but it doesn’t seem like a wise idea, although I know quite well that I am dreaming.

“Why?” I ask instead, as if my subconscious has answers beyond the obvious that my waking mind does not.

He chuckles, the sound more menacing than full of mirth. “Because you’re mine.”

I want to yell at him that wanting something doesn’t automatically make it his and that I will never submit. But what would it help? No words will fix this. Only more violence, the very tool he gave me so that I might exact his will on the world.

Gregor stalks closer, and Kellan moves in front of me to block his path.

“Stay away from her,” Kellan growls. His canines appear longer as though he is partially shifting right before my eyes.

Unlike his men, I know Gregor won’t draw his gun to shoot him. Not right away.  He savors the fight. And the feel of death on his bare hands. The only thing he might enjoy more is believing he has the power to make me do it for him.

My nose crinkles in disgust. I wonder how I ever trusted this man or found the semblance of a home he created for me to be a safe haven. He stole the only safety I ever knew and replaced it with a life filled with blood and violence. He killed my parents. He kidnapped me.

I frown, and I feel my own canines are no longer quite human. I step around Kellan to stand at his side, and I put a hand on his arm to stay him. I won’t allow him to fight this battle for me. We will fight it together for both our parents.

“I’m not going anywhere with you,” I say, looking Gregor in the eye to show that I am not afraid. Now I am old enough to decide and care for myself. I will not be blinded or influenced by a false savior. “I know what you did,” I accuse, my gaze unwavering. It feels good to say it, even in a dream. I’m tired of hiding.

“Nothing worse than you yourself have done,” he says with a smirk. His fingers flex as if he is deciding whether to take me by force or just be rid of the both of us.

I want to dare him to try either, but I don’t give him time to decide. Unlike when we sparred on the training mat, I am in some ways less sure of who I am, but I’m not tired at all. And I’m not alone. I dart in, fists flying. I land the first one on his face purely by the element of surprise afforded me by Gregor’s unrelenting hubris that has deluded him into thinking me docile and subservient.

But I am pure wrath backed by vengeance.

Kellan shadows me, darting in when I dodge and pull back, using my size to keep out of Gregor’s reach. Gregor grunts with the effort of keeping us at bay, and when he finds just a moment of reprieve from our attacks, he pulls a tactical knife from the holster on his thigh, swiping in an arc in front of him to keep us at arm’s length.

“Don’t make this difficult, Red,” he says, sweat beading on his forehead.

I scoff. “Like you’re giving me any choice.”

I grab a lamp off the bedside table and throw it at him. He swipes it from the air easily, but the movement gives Kellan an opening, and he lunges in to deliver an uppercut to Gregor’s chin. Gregor stumbles, and Kellan takes that split second to shift, his now-canine teeth going for Gregor’s wrist. The knife falls from the fingers of Gregor’s mangled hand, and I tackle him. Atop his chest, I drive my elbow into his face. His eye and nose are broken and bloody, and I feel like I am on the top of the world. There is no way we can lose.

Suddenly, Kellan’s body slams me out of the way, and I sprawl on the bloody carpet. He yelps, and I scramble to get back in the fray only to see Gregor has another knife. Of course he does. I curse at my stupidity, my oversight. The new knife is lodged in Kellan’s side, and Gregor twists the blade with a malevolent grin.

I scream, and my vision goes nearly black.

“How dare you?!” I yell, the shift overtaking me in a fast, hot rush.

Gregor just laughs and stabs Kellan again as I watch. My teeth are at his throat before he can pull the knife out and try again, and I tear chunks of flesh away until my teeth grate on mostly bone and all I can scent is blood.

I finally stop when I hear Kellan wheeze.

“Dearg,” he whispers, reaching for me in his human form.

He lies naked on the floor, blood covering so much of his torso I’m not sure where his injuries begin or end. I wish I had hands to staunch the bleeding, but it would be no use. I feel helpless. I pad over to him and nuzzle his cheek, leaving a bloody smear, and then curl up beside him with my head resting on his chest.

“Don’t worry about me,” he says, his fingers stroking my fur with so much gentleness, or perhaps he is that weak. “You did it, Dearg. I knew you could.”

But I don’t want to lose you, I want to say. In this form, however, I can’t speak.

I’ve never tried changing back in my dream. Now this body is a burden, and I’m not sure how to shed this form. I whimper, trying desperately to wish myself human again. But apparently wishing is not enough, at least not here. I’m not sure how it’s done outside of dreams.

Kellan’s eyes close, and he is still, and I know he is gone like one knows certain things in dreams with neither any doubt nor evidence. A primal urge rises in me. I stand, Kellan’s arm slipping from my fur, throw my head back, and howl.

When I wake, my heartbeat is quick from the very real adrenaline rushing through my veins. I lie still in the sheets and breathe steadily to allow my body to calm. My eyes are determined as I glare at the ceiling, daring my dream to come back, looking forward to the moment it does.

Next time, I’ll try something else. I’ll do whatever it takes to learn how to beat Gregor without losing what is mine. And someday, I’ll figure out how to get him alone and do it in the waking world too.

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