|Scroller Needing Therapy|
Chapter 1: WELCOME HOME
My sister always said, "You sit around and think too much. Go out and DO something!"
Every time I took her advice, I'd end up making impulsive decisions that got me into trouble. Usually then, she'd say, "What were you THINKING?"
"That's just it," I said to her. "I WASN'T thinking!"
Take this guy I met the other night. I went to this tucked-away tavern just to, as my sister advised, "Get out of the house." I sat uneasily on the barstool at the end. He was standing there behind the bar, wiping out the inside of a wine glass with a white handtowel. It seemed to take him five minutes or so to finish wiping out that glass before he finally put it down on the counter and tossed the white towel over it.
Walking up to me with a smile that lit up his face, he placed strong hands on the counter and leaned over toward me. I could smell a hint of Dior Sauvage.
"What'll it be?" he asked.
"Oh! Uh...Jack and coke," I said with a smile, twirling a lock of my hair with my fingers.
He was tall, maybe six-foot, and lean. You wouldn't want to have a fight with him if you were a guy drinking too much or misbehaving in the bar. Probably why he was the only one there, and there was no bouncer to speak of. He had long black hair that made his already pale face look ghostly. A neat goatee with about an inch of whiskers below the chin, was pointed at the end. I was reminded of the Count from Sesame Street and almost giggled at the childhood memory. Then, he bowled me over even more by doing an impression!
"One--wonderful Jack and Coke!" he said boisterously. "Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!"
I giggled heartily, feeling like a silly teenager. His smile faded, and he studied me a moment. Then he said, "Coming right up."
His pale blue eyes were full of...something. Passion, zest, verve, a hunger that couldn't be satisfied. I fell over my feet for him...hook, line, sinker and sail. Before my first sip of the Jack and coke, I began telling him everything about myself. A serious no-no when meeting men for the first time. I knew this and yet there I was, off to the races. He listened, intently, not the least bit bored. A bad omen my sister always warned me about. Yet...I didn't care!
His name was Charlie. Charlie Crowley. Jeez, I thought. A name like that would have shown a huge red flag had I been paying attention. He said very little about his life. He had a house his parents had left to him when they died, tragically in 9/11, where they'd both worked at the Trade Center. He seemed to have a hard time talking about it, so I didn't press him. He was fifty-six years old. I was fifty-two. When I told him that, he stared at me, and said, "You're lying." In a deadpan voice.
"What, you think I'm older?" I asked, smiling and winking.
Charlie's face became animated again as he laughed heartily.
"Oh goodness, no!" he said. "I almost debated carding you but something told me not to."
Ahhh, I thought. That old line again? I seriously knew I was in for it but I also seriously didn't care. I'm old! Well, older at least. My marriage to a guy I'd met in a theater company when I used to act, went to the dump two years ago. Eighteen whole years of it! I was heavy, having gained forty pounds during my depression after the marriage. Charlie said I looked like a bather from the famed paintings of Renoir. He said he wished he could do art. His sister, he said, used to paint, but she died of cancer the year before.
We talked about everything. Charlie, as little as he said, had had a dramatic life, it seemed. I wanted to help him, to stablize him. I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life.
That's when Charlie asked me to move in with him. Just out of the blue. And I said yes!
He kissed me then. I never knew such a kiss. It tasted like he smelled...which was like HEAVEN.
I made a mental note not to tell my own sister about Charlie. Or my family. In fact, I barely thought about them as I got into his car...a black minivan with everything but the kitchen sink in it. We drove for five hours. As the sun rose, I saw pastures, with cows, horses, donkeys and even a chicken pen.
Then, he took me to his CASTLE.
It was a castle all right! On top of a hill. There was so much to see and I was anxious to see it. I wasn't tired! But Charlie insisted I come in first and...meet somebody.
No sooner did I get into the house when a gorgeous blonde woman came sailing down the stairs like Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard." I almost expected her to ask for a closeup.
"Ashley! Ashley!" Charlie cried. Ashley was wearing a gorgeous white silk robe carefully tied around what looked like a lace nightgown. Her hair was long, slightly unkempt and she wore no makeup. But she didn't need it. The woman was GORGEOUS, her hourglass figure perfectly proportioned, her breasts the right size for her outfit and figure.
The sinking feeling went right down to my toes. By the time Ashley ran into Charlie's arms and they kissed passionately like Rhett and Scarlet...I just lost it.
"What is going on here?" I shouted.
They lingered, looking into each other's eyes, as if totally forgetting I was there.
"Charlie..." I began. I realized they BOTH knew I was there, and Ashley smiled rather deviously. Charlie did the same, still not looking at me.
"Fine. That's it, Charlie. I'm leaving. I will call a cab or the police if I have to. Maybe a helocopter will get me home!"
Charlie's voice was pained as he grabbed my shoulders and turned me around. Hurt was in his eyes.
"I want you to meet Ashley!" he said in a breathless voice. "I--I don't understand. Why do you want to leave?"
"You kissed me back at the bar," I said in a deadpan voice. "I thought you were bringing me here as your girlfriend!"
Charlie looked at me with that same gaze he gave me at the bar.
"I did bring you back here as my girlfriend," he said, caressing my cheek.
"Well, Charlie, I am glad we were on the same page with that at least," I said. "But one thing I wish I had talked about with you on the way here? I don't share. Charlie, I'm a one-man-woman. But I need the man I spend my life with to be a one-woman man. No others on the side. It's too crowded otherwise!"
Charlie frowned. He looked at me like I had introduced a completely new concept to him. Behind him, Ashley stared at me, shaking her head. Her face was twisted in a grimace that read contempt, incredulity and disgust.
"Oh," Charlie said in a quiet voice. "Uh--" he shuffled his feet a bit. "Oh."
"I want to go home," I said darkly.
"Well, you'll have to wait," Charlie said just as darkly. "Ashley needs my attention now. I gave you all the attention you could want, in the car. I listened to you while you poured your heart out. Now it's Ashley's turn."
"What is she to you?" I asked plaintively. "Is she first in your life? Am I a mistress? Because, Charlie, I don't want it like that. I didn't think I had to tell you this--"
"Quiet, Samantha," said Charlie. "There's nothing more we can say right now that we won't both regret. Now--" He suddenly looked behind me and smiled, great relief crossing his face.
"David old boy! Well, thank all that is holy!" Charlie said, moving past me to greet what I turned to see was a portly old black man, in perhaps his mid-fifties.
"I came as soon as I could, Mistah Charlie," said David, his body language much like a dog that wanted to please his master.
GREAT, I thought, feeling my blood boil over with rage. Now we have veiled RACISM here on top of everything else? Did Charlie tell David he had to behave like that--like he was somehow "less than" the "Master of the House?" Charlie Crowley. Really? He is NOT my idea of a decent human being, this stranger that I stupidly went home with. Now what am I going to do?
"Please take Samantha here to the guest room on the second floor," Charlie said to David in a dark, commanding tone.
"Yes sir, Mistah Charlie, you betcha!" David grinned, showing pearly whites. Then, he turned to me as Charlie took Ashley by the hand, and they both left the room.
When David turned around, his whole demeanor changed. His eyes were glassy, his face was deadpan, and his voice was dark and sinister.
"Now you listen to me--Samantha SINGER," he said, dropping the stereotypical dialect he'd used with Charlie. "Don't you even THINK of questioning Mr. Crowley like that again. I watched you just now and that is why I came in. You are lucky to be here. Remember that. But step out of line?"
David's face twisted into a grimace that...reminded me of a monster. He lifted one of his hands. There was hair growing on it, right before my eyes! Thick, dark hair...like a wolf.
Oh, God, no, I thought, feeling the urge to go to the bathroom, and praying that it wouldn't happen here. Oh God...what have I gotten myself into?
"I will kill you," David growled. "I'll kill you so dead, no one will ever miss you!"
"Okay--okay," I said, thinking I could formulate a plan B in the guest room. If I was allowed to stay there alone...
David put his hand down, and his face went into a grin, one that did not reach his eyes.
"Gooood," he said. "We wouldn't want you misunderstanding the power I have around here, after all. Charlie and Ashley work for me. Not the other way around."
I nodded, and smiled as amiably as I could without overdoing it.
"Come with me," said David, crooking his finger to beckon me forward. "Come, Sam. I'll show you to your room. And Sam? Welcome home. Welcome home!"
He laughed then, a dark, growling laugh that seemed to echo all around the house. I followed him, numbly, my legs feeling like lead weights in a nightmare.
I followed David...and as I did, I knew that life would never be the same. Ever, again.
(TO BE CONTINUED)This message has been edited. Last edited by: Free Madness,
"People say I make strange choices, but they're not strange for me. My sickness is that I'm fascinated by human behavior, by what's underneath the surface, by the worlds inside people."
|Scroller Needing Therapy|
Chapter 2—Charlie's Story
I woke up to the sensation of water dripping on my bare shoulder. I took a deep breath and yawned, raising my hand to my face to rub the sleep from my eyes. Soft sobs could be heard above me. A man’s sobs. Those were tears falling onto my shoulder.
A hand caressed my long brown hair, then brushed against my cheek. One sob went up in pitch, whining like a plaintive child. A lump sprang to my own throat as I slowly turned around to see who was there.
Charlie’s beautiful blue eyes were red with weeping. Tears flooded his face, dropping off his chin. His body heaved as his sobs came out in gasps. His bottom lip was curled up ever so slightly, and now and then he sniffed. He caressed my cheek, fingered my lips and nose. Then, he kissed me on the forehead.
“Did you sleep okay, honey?” he asked me in a broken voice.
“Yeah,” I said, sitting up slightly. It was then I realized the light was on, and it was dark outside. Shockingly enough, I had slept well. All the drama from this morning had worn me out so much, as soon as David brought me to the room and left, I laid right down on the bed and just crashed. Charlie helped me to sit, while he put pillows behind me, so I could lean on them. He was very tender in his administrations. I looked around the room, but neither Ashley or David were present at all.
“No one is here," Charlie wept. "I swear!"
He slowly inched himself away, then stood up from the bed. He walked around to the other side of the room, and as he did, I took in the sight of his naked body.
He was perfect, really. Lean arms and shoulders, muscular but not too much so. Incredible legs and torso. He actually reminded me a bit of Michaelangelo’s “David” sculpture. I tried not to shiver as I thought of the name “David.”
Charlie’s back and arms were almost covered in tattoos. A dragon on his back and writings or symbols of some kind on his arms. He was restless, looking around and opening drawers in a dresser. He seemed to be trying to find something. Finally, he swore under his breath, and went into the bathroom, dashing tears from his eyes and sniffling.
I heard the sound of nose-blowing, then Charlie came out with a white hand towel much like the one he’d used at the bar to dry out that wine glass. Still sobbing softly, he came back and sat on the bed, crosslegged, next to me. He sighed, and rubbed at his wet face with the towel. Then, he looked up at me, his eyes and face red from crying.
“I’m sorry about Ashley, Sam,” he said softly. “Can you ever forgive me? Please?”
His voice broke on the last word, “please.” His eyes filled with tears yet again.
“Yes, of course,” I said tenderly, putting a hand on his shoulder. My heart sank, and I suppressed a groan. Men’s tears always turned my heart to melted butter. It never failed.
Charlie smiled in relief and gratitude, took my cheek in his hand, and kissed me. During the kiss, just as heavenly as the one last night, some semblance of common sense kicked into me. I couldn’t leave it like this. If I did, Charlie might expect the subject to be closed, and perhaps continue on with Ashley as if nothing had happened. I wasn’t okay with Ashley…not by a long shot, but I wasn’t sure if Charlie was apologizing for his tone and uncaring attitude earlier, or his deception regarding Ashley in the first place.
“I wouldn’t mind you explaining a little bit, though,” I said, swallowing against a dry throat after the kiss. “I guess…it well, it was a shock to me, Charlie. You know? Is it okay if I just…want to understand?”
I asked that last question a little timidly. Charlie looked down, then up at me again. Then, he took my face in his hands and his gaze seemed to penetrate me.
“Sammy,” he said, using the name only my sister had ever called me, “Sam, sweetheart…it’s always okay to ask me things. I need you to know that. I am never going to tell you not to ask me things. Whatever you want to know…you have a right. I was an a-hole this morning. I truly apologize. I’m not a tyrant, Sam, I swear.”
“I know,” I said, smoothing back his hair. “David told me that.”
His face suddenly tensed.
“I hope you weren’t going to ask me about David,” he said in a deadpan voice. “Because…that’s not on. Nope…that topic is NOT up for discussion.”
Oh. REALLY, Charlie???
“Tell me about Ashley then,” I said sharply. “I wasn’t going to ask you about David, by the way, but please don’t use that tone of voice with me. One minute you say it’s okay to ask you anything, then you lambast me for even mentioning a name. Charlie, I am more concerned about this Ashley thing than whatever makes talking about David taboo. So don’t freaking give me veiled threats about topics of discussion. And I’m not disrespecting you or questioning you by saying that! Okay?!”
I turned away from him and sat against the pillows on the headboard, folding my arms. Tears rolled down my face but I stifled my sobs. I wouldn’t trust him with my tears just because he cried openly in front of me. I am DONE with double standards and mixed messages. I turned away from Charlie but the sobs wouldn’t stay back. I was sure Charlie would call David and he’d haul my butt out of here and probably turn into a werewolf and kill me. At that point, I couldn’t admit to caring.
Charlie cursed a few times, and I could feel him sagging, fidgeting. He sighed, and said a few more curse words. Then, he took me in his arms.
“Sam,” he said softly into my ear, “Sam…forgive me. I know. I think I brought you into a terrible position but the thing is, Sam…I need your help.” His voice was deadpan, but there was something underneath. Fear, maybe. Resignation?
“I’ve been trapped for a long time,” Charlie said. “I don’t know what to do, Sam. I was raised by men, so the idea of being trapped makes me angry. That's why I get short with people sometimes, like I was with you this morning. I hate it. I need to be strong but lately...I mean, sometimes you need a woman around to help. I have to swallow my pride and ask for that.
"My father and uncle were my only real parents," Charlie went on before I could take in what he'd said before. "My mom died giving birth to me. My sister Carla was three then.
"Dad’s brother took the three of us in when my dad went into depression after losing the love of his life. My uncle had this Fairmount park house he was renting and taking care of. It was big enough for all of us. Everything seemed great, well at least I was happy. Carla and I never went to school, they taught us at home. Basics, like English, math and science. My Uncle Matt taught those subjects at a school he worked at, but the first day I went to school, I was threatened at gunpoint by a gang of black kids. My father took Carla and me out of school then, and let my uncle teach us. See...racism was at its finest back then, and a lot of black people, kids included, were scared and angry at whites.”
“I don’t blame them,” I said, when I could finally talk. “Not that it gives anyone the right to hold a gun on you. But I grew up with all that too. It was a terrible time.”
“I was never racist,” said Charlie, as if he was trying to convince me. “I don’t even know how to be racist. It makes no sense to me. None!
“I met David when I was in high school,” he went on. “David was considered nerdy because he loved computers. In the 80’s, well…I keep forgetting you were there too.”
He laughed a little.
“I know,” I said. “Computers were for nerds back then.”
I laughed with Charlie, despite everything. It was nice to talk to someone of my own generation besides my sister.
“I took David under my wing back then,” Charlie went on. “People were always bullying him. He was skinny. He wasn’t tough, like me and the other kids. Didn’t matter if they were black, white, Indian or Middle Eastern. Everyone picked on David, because he was David. It was more than the computers. He was...different. Thought differently, said things that were considered 'off.' David was smart, and I found his ideas about life, his philosophies, very fascinating. So, I was the only one who stood up for him. One day, a rumor went around that David and I were gay lovers. That was...in the 80's? Remember?"
"I remember," I said evenly. "Totally taboo back then. AIDS was at its worst then, and everyone assumed you could get it just by hanging out with gay people. Strange, they used to beat gays up, did they think beating them up made them immune...if AIDS could be transmitted just by touching? Jeez. Some people just don't make sense."
We laughed together, whistling and shaking our heads.
"I can't stand injustice of any kind," Charlie said. "I don't care if I'm not gay or not black, or anything else...I just don't like humans being taken down by society for being different. Well...one time, a group of kids were surrounding David, calling him 'fag,' and all that crap. I stood in front of David and said, 'Leave him alone.' They looked shocked, but then walked away. A day later? I went into the men's room and saw a group of boys smoking in there. I was friends with them, so I said 'hey what's up?' Next thing I know, they were pummeling me. They almost killed me. David saved my life. I don’t know WHAT he did! To this day he won’t even tell me, Sam!
"But…there I was. It was senior year, and we were a month away from graduating. They pushed me against the wall and punched me, hard. My face was bloodied, they hit my head against the wall several times when they pounded me. It was five on one, so I never stood a chance!
"Then, finally, my knees buckled and I fell down to the floor. I saw stars, then I went unconscious. For about a minute. I opened my eyes and I swear…I was freakin’ delirious, Sam, but I swear, David, skinny little David, was dragging me out of the men’s room!!! There was no one left in there. But I saw one of the stalls, the toilet…it was a mess. Blood. I don’t know what was on the toilet, a pile of something, bodies maybe? I have no freaking idea, Sam. I just remember David’s face…it was like…not even human. It was deadpan. His eyes were…freaking yellow! Like a…like a…”
“Like a wolf?” I asked quietly.
Charlie nodded, slowly.
“I take it,” I finally said, “you were in his debt after that. Something like that.”
“You might say,” Charlie said with a bitter laugh, “that that more than paid him back for protecting him against a bunch of mean bullies. Nobody ever hit David. They just circled around him, laughing. They never hit anyone really. Unless you really got them mad. Or didn’t follow the rules of the clique. Like me.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “that’s a terrible thing to go through. So…ever since then…”
“Ever since then, things went crazier and crazier,” Charlie said. “My dad and uncle died…eaten by a bear during a hunting trip. I saw the bodies. It was horrible. David’s family took me in. I lied to you about the house. It’s not my house. It’s his.
“David only acts as my serving man when strangers first come in,” Charlie said. "Fortunately he leaves me alone when I’m alone with the company. But…now that you’re going to stay…you need to know the truth. I don’t know what David gets up to and I know what you’re thinking. It’s the same thing I always thought! But…Sammy honey, please. Don’t mention it. David has ways of finding out when people talk about him. It—for your safety…please?”
I hugged him.
“I understand,” I said. “I appreciate you explaining it to me. But…” I pulled back.
“We need to talk about Ashley now.”
Charlie sighed. Clearly he’d forgotten about Ashley and my concerns about that.
“I’ll be brief because I don’t know who’s listening in,” he said quietly. “But…Ashley is one of David’s girls. It’s hard to explain. But…my rent for living here and for him not killing me? Is to do sexual favors for her, treat her like my girlfriend or my wife. It’s that simple, Sam! Even though it doesn’t make any sense. I know…you have tons of questions. But I need you to just accept this for now.
“I want you here,” Charlie said. “I need you, Sam. I need to figure this out. I want to get out of here more than you know. But…I have to be careful. Will you help me, Sammy honey? Can you?”
My head was spinning. This all sounded so strange, so grandiose. Like a movie or something. “The Believers” came to mind, with Martin Sheen with the Santeria rituals and stuff. But I knew David was a werewolf, part of me just knew. What else was he into that he controlled Charlie so much, made him so afraid?
“Sure,” I said slowly, even though my whole body and soul were yelling "NO." But I had to be honest with myself and Charlie. I did want to be with him. I wanted to see where it would go.
“I do feel a great deal for you, Charlie," I continued. "We only met last night…but it was nothing like I ever experienced. I have to ask, though.
“Charlie, you looked very in love with Ashley this morning. Are you? I mean, you make it sound like it’s something you’re forced to do. But you also look like you love her. Do you?”
“Let’s just say,” Charlie said, “That Ashley and I are kindred spirits. As in…we’re both experiencing the same thing. This said? We have learned to act to the point where we could rival Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep…easily!”
“Wow,” I said. “So…me…you’re here in the guest room, and I’m here as your girlfriend…David is okay with that scenario?”
“David is fine as long as I give Ashley as much attention as he wants me to give her.”
Something about this smelled like a rat. It just seemed so…contrived. Like an attempt to make me feel bad for Charlie while secretly he might be laughing with Ashley and David at my gullibility.
I’d been hurt too long, taken for too many rides. My weight had always been a stigma I lived with for the last ten years. It was hell on wheels.
“I don’t like living in fear,” I said stoutly. “I don’t like you living in fear either. Charlie, I’ll help you. But you have to want help. There have to be ways to deal with this, to get you out of this situation. I might be able to figure something out. Still, at the end of the day when all this is over…I don’t want you, me and ASHLEY to ride into the sunset. She has to go somewhere else. You and I can ride into the sunset!”
Charlie whistled low.
“You sure are the jealous type!” he said, grinning. “I like that, though. I don’t know why, but…it’s kind of a turn-on.”
I don’t know why I was not offended by that, but something in Charlie’s manner…the genuine love in his eyes, made me okay with it. Still I couldn’t help but say something.
“It’s not jealousy, it’s boundaries,” I said, looking him straight in the eye and not flinching. “If you want to be with me, Charlie, you have to put me first. None of this back and forth stuff. I get it that you’re under siege with Ashley here, but if I find out there’s anything hinky about this story, or that you’re messing with my head just to keep some woman on the side while you date me? I won’t mince words, Charlie. If this all turns out to be B.S., I’m out of here!”
I half expected Charlie to jump up from the bed and admonish me, or worse, call David. But he only looked down at his hands and the towel in his lap. Then, slowly, he nodded.
“You are a woman no one can mess with,” he said. “That includes me. Hopefully if you stay strong like that, it will also include David!”
Hmmm, I thought. That’s interesting. I wonder if that’s how I can help out?
Charlie kissed me then. I let the last of the deep conversation fade away as I wrapped my arms around him. The moon shone onto the bed from the window. All was quiet except for the sounds Charlie and I made, as we consummated our love.
However, I did hear, very faintly, one sound from outside. Obviously it was pretty far away, but I heard it still.
Howling.This message has been edited. Last edited by: Free Madness,
"People say I make strange choices, but they're not strange for me. My sickness is that I'm fascinated by human behavior, by what's underneath the surface, by the worlds inside people."
|Scroller Needing Therapy|
When Charlie and I went downstairs to the kitchen, the first thing I heard was dishes clattering. As we went inside, my stomach went heavy with what felt like a lead weight.
David was making dinner!
Ashley, who’d been sitting at the table, jumped up and let out a squeal. She threw herself into Charlie’s arms, and he kissed her. My insides burned, but I looked away. David was methodically cracking eggs into a bowl. What was this, breakfast for dinner? I suppose, since Charlie and I got home in the early morning.
The renewed anger at Ashley’s presence and kissing all over my man fueled me and took away all fear. I walked purposely over to David and stood next to him.
“Hi David,” I said, smiling, fully in the role I’d be taking on with him for now. I could do Meryl Streep too, I thought!
He looked up from the eggs he was stirring with a wire whisk and his face broke into a smile.
“Well!” he said, and chuckled. “If that smile isn’t a sight for sore eyes! Miss Samantha, I take it you slept well, then?”
“I did,” I said, nodding. “David do you mind if I offer to help you? Kind of a way of making up for this morning?”
“Awww, you’re such a sweetheart, Miss Samantha!” he said, then turned to Charlie, who was sitting at the table with the slight Ashley curled up in his lap. “My goodness, Charlie, you done good with this one! But…” he turned to me, a meaning look in his eyes. “I’m the serving man around here, it’s my job. I know you may not be used to being waited on…but you’ll get used to a lot of things.” He winked.
Charlie made a “psst” sound.
“Thanks, David,” I smiled, nodding my head a bit. “I truly appreciate it.”
I walked casually over to the table and sat next to Charlie. Ashley crawled out of his lap and went right up to me, her vivid blue eyes like the morning sky.
“Hey Sam,” she said. “I was just telling Charlie I would love to show you the garden. What say you and I leave these two men alone a bit? Charlie has business to discuss with David.”
She winked. I stole a glance at Charlie, who smiled at me in a reassuring way, looked at David, whose back was to us, then back at me. He also winked.
I looked at Ashley. She was quite beautiful. Not in a “real” way at all. Like a fairy come to life.
“All right,” I said, trying to manage a smile. Ashley smiled, and linked her arm in mine as we walked together out of the kitchen.
“Ohhh, you must be so confused,” Ashley said, in a crooning voice. We walked down the large hallway through to the living room. It was elaborate with all kinds of antique-looking furniture. Statues, perhaps from Africa, adorned every wall, as did paintings of a similar nature.
“I know,” Ashley said, seeming to read my deeper thoughts as she put one delicate hand on my arm. “Sam, I am so sorry all this was sprung on you in such a way this morning.”
She had an accent. English, maybe? No—Australian.
“It’s---not something I was expecting, I will admit,” I said evenly, feeling my heart pound and wishing she’d take her hand off my arm.
Ashley laughed but it had a sad, sort of resigned sound.
“I don’t blame you for feeling the way you do,” she said as she hurried me out onto a very large patio that looked out over the garden. I followed her to the edge of the patio and took in the sights. The garden, seeming to have every vegetable and herb there ever was on Earth, was lit up with gold lights that shone from poles. Like street lights, almost. I’m not a gardener, but I assumed these lights were the sort that acted as sun for the plants during the night.
“Ohhh, that moon is SO pretty,” Ashley said, looking up at the sky. I gasped. It was a Harvest moon, a FULL moon. “I always get a little wiggy at Full Moons, but David is helpful with that. He knows a lot about…so many things.”
My blood ran cold, and I looked around for a chair. Fortunately there was a table with plushy chairs and a large umbrella over it. I hastily walked to a seat as my head began to swim, and sank down on one of the chairs.
“Oh—Sam, it’s okay, honey,” Ashley came around to me and put her arms around me, stroking and caressing my face as she did. “It’s okay! Here…hold onto this. It’ll center you.”
I felt something being placed into my hand. A stone of sorts. I lifted it up so I could see it. It was rose quartz. I struggled against tears. I did always love quartz crystals.
“Thanks,” I said, clasping my hands around the stone and resting them on the table in front of me.
“So,” Ashley said in a lower tone, “Charlie talked to you, right? He told you about me. About our…situation here.
“Sam, I need you to ask me questions,” she said, putting her hand on my clasped hands. I looked up at her. Her brow was wrinkled, and her eyes were pleading with mine. “Please! Don’t be shy. I can take it if you want to yell at me, scream at me even. David won’t mind. Charlie’s talking to him right now. He has a way with him. Charlie’s not…like us.” Ashley looked down at the table. “Me and David, that is. But he…he wants to help. In his…way. He’s a good soul, Sam, we have to trust him!
“All right, I’ll shut up,” she said, as I looked up at her, sharply. “You need to ask. I can’t tell you unless you ask.”
“Are you werewolves?” I asked bluntly. “You and David?”
Ashley looked at me with doe-like sad eyes.
“You could say that,” she said evenly. “But it’s even more complicated.”
“Is David into Santeria?” I hazarded. “Not that I ever heard of werewolves in relation to that.”
“David is into a lot of things, but Santeria is a good guess,” Ashley said bitterly. “Actually the best way I can describe it is just…simply magick. But DARK magick, not the kind that Charlie’s into. You know…the Light?”
I looked at the moon, then back at Ashley.
“The moon is full,” I said. “But you’re not a wolf right now, and neither is David. Unless…”
“We got the wolfing out of our system when the sun first went down,” said Ashley. “We went out and did…what we do. It’s not good, Sam but I don’t want to talk about that yet.”
“Okay,” I said. “I don’t know what time it is yet. Do you?”
“It’s almost midnight,” Ashley smiled. “David always knows when to stop with the wolfing. Particularly because you woke up.” Her look was very meaningful then.
“Ashley,” I said, my hackles rising as I turned to look at the door behind me. A sweet, musical laugh strangely comforted me, like a cool breeze on a hot day. I turned and Ashley’s smile was lighting up her face in the moonlight as she laughed, not at me, but in sympathy. She really did seem like a good person, all things considered. Still…very trapped.
“David’s cooking right now,” Ashley reassured me, “and when he cooks, he focuses only on the food. He won’t know what we’re saying out here. Trust me.”
“You do have a way with reading my thoughts,” I said. “That makes sense, all things considered."
I managed a smile at her then. Her eyes were imploring me. I felt that prickle of suspiciousness, but I also felt a sense of urgency. My nature is to look out for those who are in trouble, try to help them. I nodded and reached out to touch one of her hands. It didn’t feel as repulsive as it had been when she had it on my shoulder earlier. Delicate and sweet, that hand, I had only been thinking of her kissing and cuddling with Charlie then. I now felt a certain humanity from her now. She was someone who needed help, and she wasn’t on board with David’s darkness. I hoped I wasn’t wrong about this. I hoped she wasn’t hypnotizing me. For now, however, I went with it.
“So…Charlie,” I said evenly, “He owes David, in a way. David saved his life years ago in high school. He…but…that was broad daylight when those guys beat Charlie up in school. It wasn’t like, sundown or anything.”
I put my hand up before she could say anything.
“Ashley, I can learn more about the werewolf thing as we talk…and I do want to know,” I said earnestly. “But I need to address yours and Charlie’s situation in general. After all, it’s mine now too, right?”
I drew myself up and looked from the garden back to Ashley who was nodding sadly.
“I can’t help you and Charlie if David drugs my food.”
“Precisely why I brought you to the garden,” Ashley said, nodding in some kind of approval. “David um, well, let’s just say he’s too smart not to know when someone’s on to him. But…Sam? Charlie knows what David is. He’s known all along. David’s kept Charlie alive this long. What does that tell you?”
“That, um…” I thought for a bit how to word this, “one of two things, or maybe both. David is a bit afraid of Charlie because of the Light…or Charlie’s powerful enough to keep him from going too far?”
“Exactly,” Ashley smiled. “Charlie would never let anything happen to you. He told me this morning. He was not going to put you last. David knows that too. They fought a lot about it after David took you to your room...but David finally gave in. Charlie has to answer to David in other ways, but he has the upper hand regarding you. David will not be threatening you ever again, believe me.”
She looked relieved. Not jealous or upset. I stared at her.
“I asked Charlie this same question,” I said quietly. “But—do you love him, Ashley? Will there be a—um, some upset at the end of this when—we all go our separate ways?”
I looked at her intently. She smiled and shook her head. Then closed her eyes and looked away, out over the garden.
Ashley let out a long sigh. A longing one. Turning back, she looked at me.
“You will be rescuing more than just Charlie and me...and yourself of course, providing you're successful and stuff,” Ashley said, swallowing hard. “I wanted Charlie to find someone for a long time. He was never really in love with me, but many is the time I feared he’d fall for me. Thank Goodness he didn’t!
“I—I can’t be with Charlie forever,” Ashley said firmly. “This is just…to keep David happy. As well as to hold up a bargain. Sam,” she said earnestly, pain in her eyes, “You are not the only one who was hurt by what Charlie and I do!”
My heart was pounding.
“You love someone else,” I said. “Someone…someone trapped?”
“By David,” Ashley said through gritted teeth, “and that’s the bargain I made with him! His bargain with Charlie isn’t just to keep Charlie and whoever he is protecting, alive.”
“Oh my God,” I said evenly, “is it one of the other girls? David said you were one of his…girls.”
Ashley’s eyes filled with tears.
“She’s not a wolf,” she said softly, “She’s a witch though. Like you.”
I nodded slowly and gave the quartz an extra squeeze.
“Waverly and I were married before David bit me,” Ashley went on. “David was the preacher. Yes, Sam, he serves as an actual minister. Interfaith. That’s what he does for—cover, outside.
“This was one year before gay marriage was legalized in every state. We couldn’t afford to go to New York at the time. We were in Iowa at the time, Sam. I wanted to take her back to Australia with me but…that’s the other complication. Waverly has two kids. They’re in school here in Philadelphia. It would be very complicated…not to mention expensive!
“We were in a Starbucks, crying over all this. I said maybe we didn’t need to legally marry, but Waverly insisted that if I was her wife, we’d both have the rights as a couple for her to keep the kids. Otherwise, there could be trouble in case…um, someone got sick or whatnot. Waverly lives for her kids and I love them like my own! If something happened to one of them and there were problems with me being there for them because of…our lesbian status, to coin a phrase? Well. That’s why we needed to get married.
“David was sitting in the Starbucks behind me when Waverly and I were talking,” she went on angrily. “He came over to us and in his charming way, offered to take us to New York that night, and perform the ceremony. Payment,” said Ashley, clenching her teeth again, “was to be discussed later!
“Oh, no,” I said, shaking my head in anger.
“We thought it would be sexual favors and we were desperate enough to do that,” Ashley said, in agony. “Waverly had had trouble here, I mean, her one kid does have asthma you know! Also we lived in a poor neighborhood. Wave used to do drugs. I told you it’s dramatic, but she’d been clean for a year! But…with me in her life…CPS were kind of bugging her. I think…we just were desperate. I had no idea…”
Ashley was struggling against tears.
“I had no idea it would be this,” she sighed. “Wave almost wanted to leave, but of course, David threatened to kill her or make me kill her after he bit me.”
I held her hand, then put it on top of the quartz. Ashley’s tears dissipated as she was obviously too angry to give into them.
“Where is Wave now?” I asked. “And—her kids?”
“There,” Ashley said, pointing across the garden.
It was then I noticed a little cottage there. I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. I voiced my suspicions.
“Does that cottage like…disappear at random?” I asked, then laughed. “God, forgive me, Ashley but this magick stuff…I won’t lie it’s been awhile since I practiced.”
Ashley smiled warmly.
“Yes. Charlie protects Waverly by making David forget she’s there now and then,” he said. “He cloaks the house with a special magick of his own. Wave and the kids live normal lives, she takes them to school but she doesn’t need to work. David supports her, as long as I do all he says. He knows,” Ashley said, bitterly, miserably, “that I hate doing what I do with Charlie. Wave hates it too. Not a day goes by when I don’t expect her to just write me off or ask for a divorce. She has to stay here while she’s beholden to David but…well.”
“You did say lesbian,” I said, feeling anger on her behalf and strong empathy. “It is…hell, then. To be with Charlie…a man. And Wave…oh, man, I get it now. Charlie said you both had to outdo even the best actors there were!”
“Yes,” Ashley said. “I couldn’t lie about not being bisexual. And Charlie…oh, Sam. He hates it so much, because he knows it disrespects my nature. He’s only ever loved the ladies but…it would have been better if I was bi. At least he’d feel like we could…pleasure each other even if we’re not really in love. But this? You have no idea. He feels like he’s raping me, gentle as he always is.
“I never feel unsafe with him, of course. I know Charlie would never hurt me. It took Wave a long time but I think she almost trusts him, at least not to hurt me. There have been times, actually, that Charlie is been able to cloak David out. We don’t…when we’re alone, really do anything all the time. We just lay there and cry. Just cry. Of course, that’s a fetish in some circles, tears. That brings sexual relief to some. Charlie has that as an alibi in case David ever finds out.”
She winked, then laughed. I nodded, whistling low.
“Clever,” I said. “Dacrophilia. I’d read about that.”
“I don’t find Charlie the least bit attractive,” said Ashley earnestly. “Honestly, he’s like my brother. I love comforting him, like a brother. I feel as protective of him as he does of me. He lost his family, you understand.”
I thought about what Charlie had said about a bear killing his father and uncle. I wanted to mention it as a matter of interest…given the werewolf thing. But I had something to address first.
“I would love to meet Wave,” I said softly. “I’d love to get her help in this. She’s a witch, you said. If she saw…me, she’d know. She can trust Charlie more than she does.”
Ashley’s face lit up in gratitude.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” she said, her voice breaking. “Sam, you have no idea what it would mean to me—if—”
I took her by the hand. I also wanted her to know something else important.
“Waverly would appreciate this, so if she is able to read your mind…she should know,” I smiled. “Even if it goes without saying. I’m not bisexual. I have all the respect in the world for those who love who they love. Charlie and I share that feeling, Ashley. However? Waverly has nothing to fear regarding me…even if I’m monogamous to the core. Charlie’s the only one for me.
“I feel Waverly is a lot like me,” I continued, hoping I wasn’t saying too much. Ashley’s head was bowed. “I mean…um, regarding what some may call jealousy. It’s not jealously though, not really. It’s boundaries. We agree on that, right, Ashley?”
I held my breath, hoping she wouldn’t feel weird or uncomfortable. Fortunately, Ashley smiled, then laughed, reassuringly. I laughed with her, relieved beyond words.
“Of course I know that,” Ashley said, clasping my hands. “Charlie wouldn’t date anyone bi, for this very reason. However, Wave has been in a bad funk, emotionally. So before I bring you over to her, I’ll go see her. After dinner.”
I nodded. “After dinner, then!”
We both rose, and went into the house, where the tantalizing smell of meatloaf filled both our nostrils.
I would have to be careful. I hoped what I’d said in an attempt to ease Waverly’s possible fears about me, wouldn’t bite me in the ass. If David wanted to put Ashley and me together…
Charlie greeted me in the living room, but instead of going to Ashley, he went right to me. He held me in his arms for a long time, then kissed my neck. We moved back and then kissed each other, long and passionately.
“You did good,” Charlie whispered, smiling genuinely. “I love you, Sam. We’re going to make it, I swear!”
I caressed his cheek.
“We will,” I said. “I swear it as well. On my life!”
Ashley had gone into the kitchen where David was setting the table. As Charlie and I walked together toward dinner, I thought I heard a low, short growl.
Then, silence.This message has been edited. Last edited by: Free Madness,
"People say I make strange choices, but they're not strange for me. My sickness is that I'm fascinated by human behavior, by what's underneath the surface, by the worlds inside people."
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