Huge, monstrous sized thanks to my beta Renaissance. Half of this chapter is a result of her brilliant questioning. Without her, you'd be getting a way less cool chapter.
Song for the title and for the chapter: Silent Lucidity by Queensryche
Please listen to it. It's fantastic and perfectly fitting for this chapter.
Chapter Two: Ride the whims of your mind
It was just past 8:30 the next morning when I pried myself off the bed and made my way toward the phone.
"Good morning, Lake's Auto Repair. How may I direct your call?" The receptionist's familiar, detached voice answered.
"Morning Gen, it's Beth." I replied. "Can you send me through to my dad?"
Gen's voice warmed considerably. "Sure thing hon. Hang on." Elevator music filled the line, and I studied the kitchen wall while I waited.
"Robert Lake speaking," my father's voice answered.
"Morning dad," I smiled into the receiver. "I have a favor to ask."
"Morning Sugar," was his upbeat reply. "What do you need?"
"Well," I hemmed, "I've got some vacation saved up, and I'm not really needed until Monday… any chance I can get a couple days off? I'm feeling a little fried after last week. I can still work some from home too, if you need."
I chewed on my lip but waited in silence for him to contemplate my request.
"It shouldn't be a problem at all. Last week really was hell."
I sent mental thanks in the general direction of up. "Thanks dad. Call me and let me know if anything comes up. I'll just be at the house. Love you."
"Love you too, sugar. Get some sleep, you sound tired."
I really was tired. It'd been a heck of a night but he was finally sleeping soundly, which was something to be thankful for; it gave me a chance to step back and review everything that'd happened. It wasn't every day I came across a bizarre something that ended up breaking apart emotionally on my bed. For now, though, I was more than happy to leave him to his sleep. I needed a shower.
Walking back down the hallway, I wrinkled my nose at the sour smell of my shirt. I smelled like sweat and tears, a miserable combination. One last check on my strange guest and then I made my way to the bathroom.
The crisis, with all of its variables and unknowns, might not be completely over yet, but now seemed like the perfect time to fall apart a little. A hot, relaxing shower was exactly what I needed.
Even as I went through the motions of my daily routine, I felt weak from the loss of adrenaline and the calm that had been in my emotional forefront since the whole strange evening had begun. Without an anchor, my thoughts swirled and twisted until they were so convoluted with half-imaginings that I started to get light headed until I realized I hadn't been breathing regularly.
I sucked in air by the lungful until I calmed down.
The night before the most I'd been worried about was the presence of deer and the possibility of meeting one head-on in my truck. Today, I was worried I was losing my mind. Even more than that, I was worried about a stranger that I had no business worrying about.
There was no logical explanation for his shape shifting that I could think of. Now, I'd read enough fiction to know that moonlight plus furry beast-man equals… werewolf. The thought had barely registered before I snorted in derision. That's definitely not logical. I rested my head on the cool wall of the shower, hoping to shock some sense into my poor unhinged brain. It didn't help.
I ran through my memories of the night before scene by scene hoping for a revelation. Nothing had changed. Each image was burned into my mind, certainly no hallucination. It would have made things easier if it had all been a dream but no such luck for me. I could remember every time I'd touched him and the corresponding twinge in my chest.
I remembered the awful gut-wrenching cries too… my eyes welled up and spilled over before I could stop them. I swallowed hard and rinsed my face in the shower spray.
Even if I had imagined the werewolf bit I still had no explanation for why I felt such an unnatural pull towards this stranger. The uncomfortable wrench every time I looked at him touched him or thought about him leaving worried me. Shouldn't I have some control over own heart? The emotional upheaval he had me in was so surprising and strange I doubted it could have come from me.
I wasn't sure if it helped or made it worse that he was beautiful. Now there's a train of thought I'm not taking. Despite my decision, my thoughts continued. Maybe all this magnetism is just an insane physical attraction. I tried to be pleased at that thought instead of bothered by it.
Now I really need my steps. I need to organize and plan, stop living in dreamland.
Step One of the new plan, simple. Finish shower.
The water had turned cold and I shivered as I finished. I had an abrupt craving to be warm, the kind of warmth that seeps into your bones.
By the time I was out, dry and redressed in clean clothes, I had a firm hold on my (possibly false) calm. I at least felt prepared for anything.
Running a comb through my shoulder length, wet hair I walked back to the bedroom only to find that a shivering mass had replaced the peaceful sleeper I'd left not twenty minutes before. My forehead creased as I frowned. I sat on the edge of the bed and ran my hand over his shoulder and down his arm.
My fingers burned where they made contact with his skin. I tried to convince myself it was because he was unnaturally warm, not because my heart was reaching out my fingertips…
Softly, I cleared my throat.
Huge dark eyes flew open at the sound and he sat up, towering over me. Mystery man, as I'd taken to calling him in my head, blinked at me first in confusion and then cleared his throat back in response. "So," he said voice thick with sleep. "You," he lifted an eyebrow, puzzled, "found me?" He cleared this throat again and brought one hand up to rub his eyes over the bridge of his nose. "Last night, sorry. I'm a little fuzzy." It was a moment before he spoke again and when he did, his voice sharpened and his gaze turned hostile. "What did you see?"
The aggressive tone took me by surprise. I was caught staring at his eyes; they were dark and deep and made me uncomfortable in a way I didn't have time to think about as they glared down at me.
Oh yes, I knew what he was talking about. But, I wasn't going to get an explanation from that temper so I feigned ignorance. I failed to convince myself that I wasn't hurt at his reaction to me.
I raised my own eyebrows and pursed my lips in defense. "I saw you. I stuffed you in my truck. I brought you here. If you like, there's food in the kitchen and a shower down the hall. You can leave through the front door." I twisted my lips and faked surprise. "Oh wait, you don't have any clothes."
He had the decency to look abashed. "I should go."
That irritating tug in my heart was back at the thought of him leaving. Annoyed with myself, I attempted to ignore it. "Don't be ridiculous. Take a shower while I make breakfast. I think I've got some shorts around here you might be able to wear." I stood up from the bed, my false bravado overcome by shyness. "By the way, I don't know if you remember me saying so last night, but I'm Beth."
"Jacob," he replied. "Thanks, I didn't remember." He tried to grin, but it was forced and a more than a little pathetic.
Mystery man - no - Jacob, showered while I searched for the pair of my dad's shorts I'd hijacked from him and set to work on breakfast. I was not imagining what he was going to look like in those shorts, or what he looked like out of them. I was not.
Step Two, I thought, don't think about how gorgeous he is. My mind wandered anyway; he'd be getting in the shower about now... Obviously that's easier said than done.
What time she left in the morning, I wasn't exactly sure. It was somewhere between hazy dreams when I felt her hand slide out of mine and her weight, although somewhat insignificant, leave the mattress. As soon as she did, I felt empty.
The peaceful sleep she'd brought offered no more comfort; only shadows and vague, distant horrors. I was already on edge, and a soft noise snapped me back to the realms of the conscious. My body jerked awake in response, and the sudden sight of the unknown woman's face was more than my sluggish mind could process.
Wet hair that would be blonde when it dried hovered over tiny shoulders, and cool blue eyes –pale, almost as pale as her skin – peered into mine.
Startled, I sat up and shook my head, hoping to clear some of the fog and gain some balance. "So," I said and my voice cracked. I cleared my throat and tried again. "You… found me?" My eyes still weren't cooperating. "Last night, sorry. I'm a little fuzzy."
Suddenly, the events of the past – days? – came sharply back into memory. The fight, being crushed by the evil bloodsucker, being crushed again by her, arguing with Leah, "Come home when you can…" It was too much all at once. Still half asleep and unprepared for the onslaught of emotion. I desperately tried to remember more recent events, specifically the ones leading to my presence in this room, this bed, but came up empty. Vaguely I remembered giving up, falling and then… horrified at my next thought I demanded, "What did you see?"
Warm eyes narrowed and her brusque response replaced my panic with embarrassment. "I should go." I said.
She softened visibly and verbally shoved me in the direction of the shower. It wasn't even worthy of consideration. She'd asked me to stay, and staying was preferable to leaving, so I'd stay. At least for the moment; I was too worn out to run again and I didn't want to go back. I wasn't prepared to think about why I felt so safe here or how that was the real basis for my choice.
"I think I've got some shorts around here you might be able to wear," she said as she stood. Her hair moved as she did, and my nose was suddenly full of some scent I couldn't place. Like rain, I thought.
I doubted very much that anything she had would fit but if she had something, I'd wear it. I'd gotten used to being naked for the most part, but the idea of spending however long wearing a blanket like a toga seemed rather uncomfortable.
"By the way," her eyes looked shyly over the carpet, "I don't know if you remember me saying so last night, but I'm Beth."
"Jacob," I replied. "Thanks, I didn't remember." I tried to smile, but it felt alien and forced.
Beth nodded and looked for a moment like she wanted to say something else. She didn't though, just gave a small smile as she turned and walked out of the room.
I didn't understand where the urge to walk after her came from.
I found the bathroom easily enough, and was awake enough by then to be curious about my host. The house wasn't overly feminine, and the bathroom followed suit. Plain, white towels were in a neat stack on the rack above the toilet and the only thing out of place was a bottle of some hair goop that, upon tentative whiff, I figured was the source of the scent I'd smelled on her earlier.
Water washed away all trace of the forest and of the night I'd spent in the arms of a stranger. A stranger that didn't seem so foreign, but rather like I'd known her before, trusted her even though we'd barely met. My mind wandered. I'd let Bella go, to her death no less, and taken off without intending to return.
Before this morning I'd been furious. That unbearable agony had driven me, made me run and now… now I'd run it all out.
While I stood in the water – mostly in the water, the shower head hit the middle of my chest – I felt numb, disconnected. I tried to bring up a strong emotion but couldn't; something was clouding my emotions, twisting things and changing them until there was nothing left I recognized.
I forced myself to picture Bella the way I'd seen her last, walking out of my room and back towards him. I braced myself for the onslaught of pain but got only a guilty sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. She's not mine. I've got no claim on her.
As much as I'd tried to have a claim on her, it hadn't worked. I loved Bella, but she deserved her happiness. Don't I deserve mine, too? The thought was bitter, but there was a tiny bit of hope in it.
"I'll be okay," I whispered, unsure if I said it because it actually was true or because I needed it to be true.
I used the soap that was on the ledge, glad that it didn't make me smell like a girl. When I was done I stood in the water and tried to clear my mind, find some balance. I focused on the sound of the water, let my mind drift off… and thought of nothing except the comfort I'd felt the night before. A knock on the door brought me back to reality.
"Yeah," I hollered louder than necessary, wincing at the sound.
"I found the shorts and I'm pretty sure they'll fit," was the muffled reply. "I'll leave them outside the door. Breakfast is ready when you are."
Food was good motivation. Hurried along by the incessant growling in my stomach I quickly toweled off and cracked the door open. As promised, a pair of black men's basketball shorts sat neatly folded just outside. I had them on and was halfway into the hall before I wondered why she had men's clothes just laying around. The thought was no more than fleeting and didn't give me a chance to notice that it'd made me frown before it was gone.
The first thing I saw when I entered the kitchen was her very small person crouching on top of the counter, back towards me, digging around in the top shelf of a cupboard and complaining to herself.
Warmth at the ridiculous, yet somehow adorable sight threatened away some of my apathy.
She looked incredibly silly. I walked up until I was standing just behind her, our heads nearly the same height. "Need help?"
Startled, she jumped and let out a yelp. I laughed, more freely this time, and set one hand on her back and one on her shoulder to steady her.
"Sorry," I grinned, "Didn't mean to scare you."
"Right, I'm not scared. Just terrified is all. You mind?" Her voice was shaky through the sarcasm. Beth gestured towards the floor with one hand, a stainless steel teapot in the other.
"Nope." I sidestepped and she jumped down lightly.
"Breakfast is in the dining room, on the table." She pointed as she spoke. "I'll be there in a minute, as soon as I get this going. Let me know if you need me to grab anything."
"Okay," I said and made my way to the dining room. Food couldn't wait any longer; how long had it been since I'd eaten? I hope she made enough.
No way was I going to accomplish Step Two. To be safe, I replaced "don't think about how gorgeous he is" with "cook breakfast." That was simple enough.
The shorts had been easy enough to find. It was fortunate they were clean. I didn't need the added discomfort of us both being awake and, in his case, not passed out, while he was both good looking and naked. Never would have made Step Two, I sighed.
Breakfast was well on its way before I got up the nerve to knock on the bathroom door.
"Yeah?" Jacob shouted though the door.
I held the shorts up and tugged experimentally at the waistband again. My dad was nowhere near as tall as him but he was bigger around. "I found the shorts and I'm pretty sure they'll fit. I'll leave them outside the door. Breakfast is ready when you are." I didn't wait for a response.
Cooking was always an adventure for me. Even with something as simple as ham and eggs I ended up using every single dish available, turning the place into a disaster. On impulse, I decided the morning called for tea. This meant I had to dig the pot out of whichever cupboard I'd hid it in during one of my previous cleaning fits.
Standing on the counter, digging through the cupboard and berating myself for ever hiding the thing in the first place, I didn't even hear him get out of the shower.
I finally had the elusive ware in hand when an unexpected voice directly behind me asked, "Need help?"
Naturally, this scared the figurative pants off me. After an amused laugh from the culprit, two warm hands steadied me even though I was in no danger of falling.
Good lord, my senses worked overtime and my heart fluttered in a way that had nothing to do with my earlier scare. He smells good. I used the same soap and I know I don't smell as good as that.
"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you," he said and I could tell he was still smiling. It was definitely an improvement from the night before. It was nice that he was feeling better of course, but the complete one-eighty did surprise me some. Barely 8 hours before I'd found him broken and now here he was, smiling.
It was illogical of course, but after all, he is male. Emotions never work properly with them. Apparently my emotions didn't work properly around him either. I'd have to see what I could do about an explanation about his love potion no. 9 bit during breakfast.
Blinking, I stared at him until I realized what I was doing. "Right," I said. "I'm not scared. Just terrified is all. You mind?" I motioned towards the floor.
"Nope," he said as he stepped away. I jumped down and thankfully I landed upright.
He didn't need much encouraging towards the dining room. I stayed behind, filling the teapot and plotting the course my inquisition would take.
When I got to the dining room, he was halfway done eating already. He slowed down considerably when he noticed my raised eyebrow and half smile. Setting down his fork, he reached for a piece of toast.
"This is great, thanks." He said without looking up.
"Not a problem," I replied.
We ate in silence for a moment.
"Really," he started, softly. "Thank you for bringing me here. I would have woken up in the forest, probably fine, but this is infinitely better."
"Which is better?" I asked, joking. "The company or the food?"
He laughed once, and shook his head. "Both."
Pleased warmth snuck up on me at his affirmation and I couldn't keep from smiling.
A comfortable silence stretched out until the whistling of the teapot broke it. I stood and with a polite refusal from him, went and made myself a cup.
"So," I waited a moment after I returned before asking, "Can I see it?"
No way was I ever going to be ready to ask such a crazy question. Without allowing another hesitating thought I asked, "whatever that was you did last night. The twilight zone shape-shifting thing."
I didn't know what answer I hoped for. If I was delusional it would be time to check into a clinic, if not… that was another thing altogether.
He abruptly stiffened and set down his fork. "I can't talk to you about that." His voice was strained.
"I see," I said, even though I didn't really. "So, you can't tell me. Is there a way around that? I'm good at being nosy."
"I'd prefer if you didn't find out." The chill in his voice made my skin itch and my stomach turn.
As sudden as he'd changed moods earlier, he grinned at me.
"Let's not talk about it anymore. That stuff doesn't really matter anyway."
Under the smile I could see the worry, thick and deep, so I grinned back and nodded my consent.
That stuff mattered to me, but illogically so did he and the twist in my heart decided before my mind could disagree; I could wait to learn more.
Annoyed that I couldn't summon up even a teaspoon of caution I sighed and gave up. Common sense apparently wasn't very common in this house. Ignoring the irrationality, I would wait. Maybe the longer I was patient the longer he'd stay here…
Step Three: Let him come to me.
End of Chapter Two
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