When I woke the next morning, Taylor wasn't crushing me. In fact, he wasn't there at all. I couldn't hear the shower running and the bed next to me was very cold. He'd been gone for a while. I hoped none of the guys got to him. Oh, God. I gasped, rolled out of bed and yanked my bedroom door open.
I could hear male voices from the kitchen. It didn't sound like they were arguing or taunting, but if anybody told Taylor anything about my history, I'd be screwed. But, if I barged in and demanded to know what they were talking about, it'd be obvious that I was hiding something. I heard Taylor chuckle and whisper something, but I couldn't quite make it out. My best chance was to act oblivious and unaffected, no matter what.
"Hey, Rains," Taylor said when I walked into the kitchen.
"Um, hi? What are you guys all doing in here this early? I didn't even know you understood the concept of anything before noon."
"Yeah, except when you keep us out on all night shifts," Seth joked.
"Even Clair gets worried. She's only seven. And she can't get to sleep unless I tuck her in." A few of us glanced at the tall man. "What? It's her pathology."
"And we're still going to give you crap for that. Especially before morning tea," I said, moving towards the stove.
"I already made it for you while the guys were telling me about you." Taylor handed me a mug.
"Thank you." I took a sip. "Very good. So, what have you been putting into his head, boys?"
"Nothing embarrassing. I kept them in line," Sam reported from the back of the room. "We need to get going. Some of us still want a full eight hours of rest." The guys started packing up, grabbing as much food as they could.
"Oh, Raina? Mark and Ed need you to call today. Something about Amber's Italian escapade?" Seth said.
"Thank you. I'll call. Get some sleep, Seth. You look like you need it. 16 hour shift?"
"Poor kid. 'Bye."
Once everyone had left, I sat down at my bar, face in my hands. I sighed and took a sip from my tea. "Thank you for this."
"No problem," Taylor said. He leaned against the other side of my stove. "You seem tired? Stretched like a rubber band."
"Yes. With everything that's going on here, I don't want to have to deal with any overseas adventure. I'm going to have to work doubles anyway after Hannah and Dustin move. I don't want to be traveling between Rome and here, too."
"Hannah's moving?" I stared up at him for a second.
"God, I suck at telling you things. Yes, they're moving to California."
"Oh. Well, good for them."
"They've been together of six years. I'm just glad they're moving in with each other, finally."
"Huh. So, uh, Jacob had something interesting to say to me this morning. It's a bit…thought-provoking, I guess." I sighed.
"Oh, what did he tell you? I told him not to get carried away."
"He said he was the real Jacob Black. Like, the boy I impersonated on the movie. Then he showed me this things he does—"
"Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, no." How could he have done this? He knows he's not allowed to tell humans, or anyone, for that matter. Maybe that's why Emmett called. They found out Taylor knew and were sending assassins out for his head on a platter. If it comes to it, I guess killing them wouldn't really be a problem, but cover—
"He cut himself open and made me watch his skin heal in less than a minute. I can't believe it. It was just a trick, right?" I looked up at him.
Ah, screw it.
I got up and looked through my fridge, pulling out a glass bottle and drinking from it.
"Well, to be honest, Jake was telling you the truth. Everything you said he said it real. I'm going to have a shit ton of crap to deal with for telling you, but I don't care. I probably should, but I don't."
He stared at me for a moment, clearly deciding whether I was joking or not.
"Yup. Almost everything you portrayed in those movies was real. Of course, you guys had special effects and we made it seem more gay, but the basic principles are the same."
"So, Jacob is…a werewolf?"
"Yeah. Well, he's a shapeshifter, but that's what werewolf means. Man to wolf. He goes from man to wolf." I drank deeply from my bottle. "Incidentally, the healing quickly thing is a byproduct of spending time with me."
"So, what happens to me?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Are you going to kill me?" I laughed.
"That doesn't make sense. Just recently, we were caught on camera, kissing. The first person they'd come to is me. I don't want to deal with that."
"Oh, yeah. Wait, what do you mean 'byproduct of spending time with me'?"
"Oh, well, naturally, we're what you'd call able to coexist. Just like how the werewolves phase because of the vampires, they have certain physiological reactions to other…things."
Taylor pulled over the extra chair from the corner of the room and sat down along the other side of the table. I watched him through the cloudy bottom of my bottle when I finished it, wincing a little
"But that doesn't make sense. What are you, then?" He paused, clearly thinking this for the first time. "What are you?"
"Don't pee yourself. It's not like I'm going to hurt you. Anyway, I don't really have a species name. I guess you could say, probably because there's only ever been two of us. Oh, wait!" Taylor shied away at my exclamation in surprise. "There was this one guy…He called me something.." I thought for a moment, straining to remember. "It started with a 'c'. Cur—no. Oh, Culner. I don't know what it means."
He stared at me, totally lost.
"There was a guy who did a few experiments on me once and I think he labeled me 'Culner'. It might have been an acronym for something. I'm not sure. I was a little drugged up at the time."
"Ah," he said, looking down at his folded hands. We were both quiet for a few moments.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"I dunno. I mean, I sort of have to believe you 'cause there was that healing Jacob thing and it's kinda hard to make up a story like that. On the other hand, it's a little…"
"Far-fetched?" He glaned up.
"Yeah. How do you keep it a secret?"
"We try very hard."
"I suppose so." He looked away.
"If you don't want to stay here anymore, I completely understand. Also know that I still plan to keep you safe, even if you want nothing to do with us."
"Why wouldn't I want to stay? You're not going to hurt me."
"True, but I imagine it's a bit uncomfortable."
Taylor stood and walked over to the kitchen sink. I followed him to put my bottle on the counter. He turned on the water and let the sink fill before wiping out the few dishes there.
"Taylor?" I said, stopping his movements by pressing my hand to his arm. He leaned his forehead against the cabinet above us and set his hands on either side of the wide sink.
"It's just that I enjoy spending time here and with all of your guys even though I've only known you for a week, but I'm walking into this blind, Rains."
"I know. And we'll all help you. You just gotta ask. We don't do any of the village invasions you see in the movies, I promise."
"I hope not." We sat in silence for a while. "So, I can ask pretty much anything, right?"
"Of course. Did you have something in mind?" I asked.
"No, just making sure."
"Mmm. What were your plans for today?"
"The guys are working on the house today. I just want to make sure everything's good while they're there."
"Do you mind if I go over with you?" He turned to look at me. "I have a day off. I don't get those often."
Taylor's mouth formed a smirk.
"What?" I asked, warily.
"I have an idea."
It took entirely too long to find an outfit to wear. Taylor told me to choose something casual and sporty. I don't even know what that means. The first 26 outfits I chose didn't seem to work for him. He ended up picking out a pair of sweat pants and forcing me into one of his shirts. Then, he led me to his house, explaining along the way.
Apparently, Taylor's construction company had a lot of workers whose daughters idolized him for various reasons. He thought that it would help if the two of us hung out in front of the men. Theoretically, they'd take the information back to their daughters, who'd spread it around and he would stop getting hounded by women asking his hand for marriage. And if a few of the guys took a sneaky picture or two to send to tabloids, wouldn't that just be the icing on the cake? What I got out of the deal was simple: fame and free food. I have to admit that the food was the more tempting of the two.
Except that it didn't happen that way. Not exactly. Taylor hadn't equated in the use of cellphones. Most of the men had sent out news and pictures within twenty minutes. I wasn't quite comfortable having everything staring.
"Relax. They're not going to hurt you," he said after the tenth man had created an excuse to talk to us.
"That may be true, but that's not going to help me relax."
"What would help you relax?"
"Everyone leaving." He rolled his head to the side along the back of the couch to look at me.
"Unlikely." We were quiet for a few moments while men walked around us. Suddenly, Taylor grabbed my hand and stood. "Come with me." He led me down the hallway and into the bedroom. "Take a shower. Eat something. I'll be right here. I want to take a nap."
I tilted my head to look at him. "Why?"
"It'll help you relax."
"I don't think so. Does being naked in a house full of almost complete stranger sound appealing to you?"
"Don't worry. I'm going to be right here. The only way to get into the bathroom is through the bedroom," he said.
"Or the window, which is currently a piece of plywood."
"No one's going to rip the plywood off to watch you shower, Rains. I promise. If you want, I could come in with you, just to make sure you're not suddenly accosted by some pervert."
"Like you, you mean? No thanks. I think I can take care of myself for ten or fifteen minutes."
He pulled the plastic tarp off the bed that had protected it from the plastering and painting the workers had done. He smiled at my joke as he crawled beneath the pristine sheets.
"Here," he said, throwing me his shirt. "Change into this. I'll get a new one when I wake up." He rolled over and closed his eyes. I stared at him and he opened them again. "You're not in there yet?"
"You seriously want me to wear your gross, used shirt?"
"Well, you're wearing one right now. And it's not as if I've been running around in it for hours. It's pretty much clean. The one you're wearing on the other hand…"
"Oh, ew." I grabbed the shirt and practically ran into the small room on the other side of the bed.
After a few awkward moments of fumbling around, I finally managed to take a short shower and calm down a little. It was entirely uncomfortable, but that put me back into my comfort zone. I was trained to deal with my discomfort. When I returned to the bedroom, Taylor was fast asleep. I curled up on the side next to him, just like we did at home.
We were awoken by a man in overalls who barely had time to put his cellphone away before we looked at him. He'd obviously been taking pictures of us. But why? Taylor shifted behind me and groaned a greeting. His arm pulled from my waist just enough to turn and address the man. I rolled back over and ignored the two. Taylor's voice reverberated against my back and had the same calming effect on me as a long car ride had on a toddler. I nodded back into the dreamland I'd just come from.
When I woke up for the second time, I could feel a breeze on my face. The window was open across from us. I sat up to look around, forgetting that Taylor was still attached to me. He protested and rewrapped himself around my waist.
"Mmm. What're you doing?" he asked, groggily.
"Why is the window open? In fact, why is there a window there at all?"
"The guys installed it a while ago."
"They were in here while we were sleeping?" I turned to look at him in shock. He groaned and rolled onto his back, flinging an arm over his face.
"No. You were asleep, but I was awake, I promise."
"Well, that makes me feel a whole lot better."
"I'm sorry. I couldn't have really told them all to leave."
"It's just that I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of people I don't know and don't trust in the room I'm sleeping in. It leaves me vulnerable."
"They didn't do anything. C'mon. Forget about it. It's already after seven. Let's just get something to eat and watch some TV or something," he suggested.
We got ready in silence. Taylor tugged on a clean t-shirt quickly, almost ripping a new arm hole through the side. We stalked back over to my place and awkwardly made preparations for bed.
"Look. I get that you feel vulnerable while sleeping. Everyone does. But I'm trying to explain that I was there, awake, the whole time. I wasn't going to let them do anything to you," he said. I sighed and put down my pillow.
"I know. I get it. It's just that there are some situations where you may not be able to keep people from injuring me."
"Like what? None of those guys has a gun. Besides, I'm sure they're profiting enough just from those stupid pictures."
"Do you remember those really creepy guys at Safeway the other day," I asked.
"Kinda. I remember Hannah staring at them."
"Yeah, them. Well, they're a situation that you won't be able to save me from. They're vicious and cold-blooded. Advanced warning, if anything happens, do what they tell you to do, even if it's self-destructive, until I can get to you."
"Okay, now I'm a little worried," he said, walking towards me.
"I'm sure It'll be fine, but I still think you ought to have some outline of a plan of action."
"In case what happens?"
"I don't have. Anything, I suppose." He looked at me for minute or two, trying to figure me out. "I have to go call someone."
On my way out, he called after me. "Are you sure you'll be okay?" I smiled at him.
"Trust me. I'll be fine."
I walked down the hallway a little and entered the last room on my right, closing the door behind me. A phone rested on its cradle on the table in front of the window. I picked it up and dialed a number I'd never been able to forget.
"Ah, I was wondering when you'd finally respond," a silky voice sounded in my ear.
"Just tell me what you want so I can leave."
"Yes, back to the little human boy. Wasn't he the one you chose to play that mongrel? Interesting you're with him now."
"Mere coincidence. What do you want, Marcus? Another dead body? More money?"
"No. Retribution and repayment."
"So, yes to the bodies, then."
"Not exactly. We never really got what we wanted and neither did you."
"I got out. That's what I wanted. If you don't have something better to offer me, we're done. Get to the point!" I growled.
"Fine. We recently received information your friends bought a house near one of our plots. Adjacent to it, I believe. I need you to retrieve an item of value from someone for me or your little friends may find their new lives will go up in smoke."
"Maybe. If I must resort to that."
"I've noticed you're using the word 'I' a lot. Do the others not know about this little deal you're attempting to make with a rogue?"
"That is none of your concern."
"I see. I shall decide based on the information I trust you'll send me by the end of the week."
"So, we have an agreement?"
"No. You'll be hearing from me, either way. You can count on that. Oh, by the way, that nexus was a good idea, but I think you may find it no longer works in your favor."
When I returned to my bedroom, Taylor had rearranged the sheets on the bed so that the heavy ones rested on the wooden chest at the foot of the bed. He looked up when he heard me enter.
"Is everything okay?" he asked.
"Yes. Actually, I feel better now. What are we watching?"
"17 Again. The one with Zach Efron. I had Warren pop us some popcorn."
I fell asleep an hour later, completely disregarding the kernels between my sheets.