Rae woke up and stared at the ceiling. She knew Connor was not in bed without having to look over to his side. They’d been distant to each other since their argument three days ago. She tried to see things his way, she really did, but he was being unreasonable. She really needed to find out more about this magic stuff and Nyema couldn’t help her. The genie could only tell her enough to keep her alive and safe, but she wasn’t allowed to divulge any secrets. If Rae found out things on her own however, then they could discuss it. It was a shaky loophole, but a loophole nonetheless.
She got up and got ready for the day. Her doctor’s appointment was for 10 am and then she was going to meet Aunt Wendy. She’d wanted to ask Connor to come with her, but all they seemed to do was argue and she was already stressed as it was. The vomiting had not stopped and she feared she’d come down with a stomach virus. It was probably the frog legs.
Rae walked out of the hair salon and felt oddly lighter. Her head seemed ready to float off her neck. Touching the back of her nape, she marveled again at how short it was, but she didn’t regret her decision to cut her hair. She was starting a new chapter in her life today! Rae grinned and walked down the street towards her great aunt’s home.
Chinwendu Ijendu stood outside and Rae smiled when she saw her. So this was the woman who seemed to know her better than she knew herself. She didn’t look very special, just an older woman waiting to say hello to a family member.
“Aunt Wendy?” Rae asked.
“Rae Rose, how very pleased I am to finally meet you.” Wendy stroked Rae’s hair. “I see you cut your hair today – rather impulsive, no?”
“How did you know that?” Rae gaped at her aunt.
Laughing, Wendy said, “You keep touching the back of your neck like you expect there to be something there and your mother sent me wedding photos.” At Rae’s blush, Wendy laughed. “A large part of my gift is the power of observation. When you learn to read people, it becomes easy to know what will be.” And with that cryptic, albeit poetic response, she ushered Rae into her house.
“This is…nice.” They’d walked into what must have been the weirdest room she’d ever seen. It was just one large area with no doors leading to a bathroom or a bedroom. “Umm…is this where you live?”
Her aunt laughed. “Oh no. This is my workshop. I work and practice the arts in here. I live two doors over. I brought you here because I know you have some questions for me and I want to give you a safe space to explore.”
Rae noticed the crystal ball first and as her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, she spotted a cauldron and some weird looking metal device. “What exactly do you do?”
“Oh, come on. I am a witch, dear. That cannot be a surprise to you!” Wendy exclaimed at Rae’s scandalized expression.
“I guess I’m more shocked that you would admit it. I’ve wondered for years if you were, but mom would never confirm it.”
“We do not speak of such things, as it is a private matter and most people do not care to understand what it means. Unless they want their fortunes told or a potion created for them. I am still amazed at human beings’ penchant to deny what is inconvenient.”
“So why tell me?” Rae walked over to the crystal ball and jumped back when it started to swirl around. “Did I do something wrong?” She asked, worried she’d broken something.
“Oh no dear, it responds to magic.”
“Oh…oh,” was all she could say.
“Would you like to show me what you can do?”
“I can’t do much. Just a language spell.”
“Really? Show me.”
Rae and Chinwendu spent the next hour talking about all the crazy things that Rae had learned about herself in the last year. She felt so much better after speaking to Wendy that she was caught completely off guard by her aunt’s next question.
“So how far along are you?”
“What? You can tell just by looking at me?” Rae was amazed. Her appointment to the doctor that morning had not confirmed food poisoning, but pregnancy. Which was insane. Her sister Adeya was trying to have children, had been trying for over a year with no luck and here she was, pregnant within weeks of her wedding. Yeah, she would wait to tell Ade about this.
Wendy shrugged, “The signs are there if you know where to look. So, how long?”
“Six weeks. It feels kind of surreal, I’ve never thought about having kids. I thought I’d have more time to decide. Connor is going to freak!” Thinking of Connor, she could feel her smile slipping. Would he be happy?
“Do you want him to be happy?”
“Aunt Wendy, no offense, but you are seriously scaring me. Did you just read my mind?”
“Good heavens, no,” Wendy said laughing. “You have a very expressive face; it makes you easy to read and a terrible liar.”
They sat and visited for a couple more hours. Rae updated Wendy on her family in the states and Chinwendu showed her baby pictures of her grandmother and her mother. Looking over at the clock, Rae realized just how late it had gotten. “I have to head home, Connor will be worried. But we’ll both come back and visit before we head home, okay?”
Wendy walked her back outside and gave her a hug, “Be well.”
Rae walked inside the Castle doors to find a tour in progress. She smiled and waved to the few tourists who turned to snap her picture and then quickly walked upstairs. It was a little weird having strangers in her home, but since they’d given the town such little warning, Rae gave them permission to continue the tours they had already booked.
The castle had its own museum, at least on the first floor. There were priceless objects from around the world and since it was so rarely used, her family had given the local government permission to provide tourists access to the main level. The upstairs floors were off-limits to them and that is where she and Connor were staying now.
“Hey Rosie!” As she walked up to the second floor landing, Rae was brought up short by a swaying Connor, who held a large glass filled with some fruity looking drink.
“Are you drunk?” She asked, incredulous.
“Noooo, a little tipsy, maybe, but not drunk. I can still count my toes, see?” And then he tried to count his toes through his shoes.
She couldn’t believe it. In all the time she’d known him, Rae had never seen Connor intoxicated. “There are people in the house today. Why are you drinking at three in the afternoon?” She glanced around, suddenly at a loss for words and noticed the serving tray on the chair. “How many of those have you had, Connor?”
He frowned at her, “I don’t know. The bartender asked me to help her, she’s new.” He whispered the last part, as if it was a great secret.
“Why is there a bartender here? Why are you drinking? What’s wrong with you!”
“No. You do not get to be angry with me Rae.” He said, slurring his words. “You’ve done nothing but worry about whatever the hell it is you’ve been researching. Since.We.Got.Married! We’re married, Rae! But I barely see you, barely talk to you. You left this morning and didn’t tell me where you were going – when did we start doing that? You ditch me for old bookstores and fairytales. You didn’t even take my last name. I’ve questioned everything I thought was right and real about my universe, for you.” He sat down on a chair and let out a bitter laugh. “Do you know you won’t even let me hold you at night? How messed up is that?”
“What are you talking about?” Rae was shocked. She didn’t know he felt that way. He wasn’t normally the type to keep his feelings a secret and the fact that he’d felt neglected and kept that to himself worried her. What else was he keeping from her, what else was she doing wrong?
“At night, in your sleep, you turn away from me. You subconsciously put distance between our bodies. You might not realize it consciously, but your heart does.”
She knew she shouldn’t ask. But she did anyway, “Realize what?”
“That we shouldn’t have gotten married.”
And there it was. The truth she knew would come sooner or later – he regretted marrying her. If he’d hit her, it would’ve hurt less than hearing those words come out of his mouth. What could she say to that?
“I think I need some time to try and figure out what I want.” He looked at her, as if waiting for an argument.
“You’re breaking up with me…two months into our marriage?” When he shook his head, as if he would deny it, she said, “No. I want to hear you say the words, Connor. I want you to look me in the face and tell me that everything you promised me the last four years was a lie. I want you to say the damn words so I know – I know that I was right. Say it!” She shouted those last words, not caring if the tourist overheard them.
He doesn’t mean it, Rosie. Please, look at him. Pay attention!
He just sat there and hung his head. “I’m sorry Rae. I’m so sorry.”
“What?” Rae looked over at a sobbing Rebecca. Why was she so upset? It was Rae’s marriage that was falling apart.
Connor looked up and frowned, “I said – oh. You’re not even talking to me. Is there even really a Rebecca? I feel like I’ve accepted a lot of things at face value because I love you. But what if you’re just –” He didn’t complete the thought.
“What if I’m just crazy?” She finished it for him. Nyema’s words came back to her then. What if she’d been making him stay and he’d convinced himself it was because he loved her? “Maybe I am.”
That night, she called Dr. Gates and asked him if she could work with him at his lab in Moonlight Falls. He expressed some concern about her starting work so soon after getting married, but she convinced him it was a good idea. She smiled and tried to sound cheerful. “Dr. Gates, I mean Brian, I’ve been away for almost two months, it’s time to start on my project, please there is a…new development in my situation that I would like to discuss with you in person.”
“Well, I guess if you feel ready…”
“Absolutely, I’ll be in Moonlight Falls in a couple of days. See you soon Doctor.” Rae hung up and climbed into bed. She told herself she would not cry. She hadn’t cried when Connor said he needed some time to think and she wouldn’t start now. She looked down at the phone still in her hand and automatically dialed her sister. The moment Adeya said hello, Rae felt the tears start to slide down her face. So much for that plan.
She told her sister everything.
Rae woke up the next morning feeling like she’d just gone to bed, but she needed to get ready to catch her plane. It would take close to 24 hours to get to Moonlight Falls and her flight left in five hours. As she walked down to the kitchen area, she stopped short at seeing her husband. She winced, just thinking that hurt – how long would he stay her husband before he wanted a divorce? Could they get an annulment?
For someone about to lose the father of her child, you’re awfully calm.
Oh God, the baby! She instinctively pressed her hands to her stomach and watched as Connor looked down at her belly. He raised an eyebrow and took a few steps towards her before stopping, “You still feeling sick?”
“No, I…” She felt completely at a loss. How do you tell a man who says he doesn’t want to be with you that you’re having his baby? “I went to the hospital and they said that…umm, that I’ll be fine in a few weeks. They gave me some pills.”
“I see,” was all he said.
This had to be the most awkward moment of their entire relationship and the most painful. But in a way, Rae felt better, more normal. She’d always known what they had wouldn’t last, had felt incredibly lucky every morning she woke up next to him and then spent the rest of the day dreading the moment he would realize she wasn’t the right one for him. She’d gotten four great years with him; she would cherish it and move on. At least that’s the pep talk she gave herself this morning.
Clearing her throat, she said, “I’m leaving in a couple of hours. Please stay here as long as you want. And umm, you can stay at the house too, since I won’t be going back there.”
“I don’t understand. I know I said some things last night, but I…”
She looked at him and noticed his bloodshot eyes and the way his voice was lowered. She laughed. He was hung over. He probably didn’t even remember what he said to her yesterday. “You don’t remember a thing, do you?”
He started to shake his head, but grimaced in pain instead. “Bits and pieces. I came home, had a beer, talked to you and the next thing I know, I’m waking up with a splitting headache, and I’m not in our bed. Did we have another fight?”
Rae stared at him and realized she had an opportunity here. She could pretend that last night never happened, that he hadn’t broken her heart or she could leave and try to start over without him. Looking into his eyes, she was tempted. But it wouldn’t be fair to him, he wanted out of this marriage. She could never raise a child in an unhappy household.
She reached up and hugged him, holding on to him for as long as she could. When he winced again she backed away, that’s when she noticed the markings on his shoulder. “What is that?”
“What? Is there something there? It itches like crazy.” Turning him around, she gasped. He had a tattoo of a wolf’s head on his left shoulder.
“When did you get that?” It looked so real! She reached out to touch it, but he turned away and walked to a hall mirror.
“What the – ” Connor stared at his back. Okay, so he obviously didn’t remember letting someone tattoo his shoulder. “This is insane. How could you let me do this?”
“Whoa. This is the first I’m seeing of this. I don’t know when that happened!” She had to admit, though, it was stunning artwork. Shaking her head, she looked at his face. He seemed so confused. “Listen, Connor, last night we decided that our – marriage,” why was it so hard to say that word now? “Our relationship isn’t working. You need some space and time to figure things out and I’m going to go work for Dr. Gates.”
“I’m sorry, what? Who the hell said our marriage wasn’t working? You’re leaving me? You can’t just leave! Till death do us part, Rae. Or do our vows mean nothing to you?”
This was not fair. How had she become the bad guy in this? Why couldn’t he remember what he said last night? Her stomach tightened and she felt bile rise in her throat. “I can’t have this conversation right now; I’m going to be sick.” She ran out the room and to the closest bathroom.
Rae was just finishing dinner when she heard scratching at the door. She frowned; Brian didn’t have pets, did he? The scratching continued and she heard a low bark. Okay, so it was a dog, but she’d been here a week, and she hadn’t seen any pets to speak of.
She walked to the door and peered out the side window, yup, it was a dog, a small thing too. She opened the door and with another bark the dog ran down the stairs and around the side of the house. She followed the barking and saw that the little guy was waiting for her, wagging his tail. He didn’t look like a stray, at least, and he had a collar.
“What’s your name, little guy?” She scratched behind his ears and was rewarded with faster tail wagging and a lolling tongue. ‘You’re so cute; your family must be looking for you.”
She reached for his collar and read: “My name is Captain. If found please call my dad.” There was a number written below.
“Your name is Captain?” The dog barked an affirmative. “Nice to meet you. I’m Rae.” Captain reached up and licked her face. Hmm, yeah. This is why she didn’t have a dog, but maybe when the baby was born – she stopped that train of thought. Planning for a future without Connor in it hurt too much.
Rae stood up and reached for her phone. “Come on Captain, let’s go inside and call your dad.”
As they walked back to the front door, she dialed the number from his tag. A deep voice answered on the third ring. “This is Caleb.”
“Hello, my name is Rae. I think I found your dog.”
“My what?” Caleb sounded distracted and vaguely annoyed.
“Um, your dog, Captain?” Rae frowned, maybe she dialed the wrong number.
The man let out a small chuckle. “You found Captain? I didn’t know he was missing. How did you get my number?”
“It was on his dog tags.” She felt like there was an inside joke that she wasn’t part of. “He is yours, right?”
“Oh, he’s one of mine alright. Just tell him to go home.” Caleb still sounded amused, but she heard rustling papers, as if he was distracted once again. “And Miss…”
“Rae. Just Rae.”
“Well Rae, thank you for calling. If you text me your address, I will send you a thank you gift, for finding my, uh, dog.”
“Oh no, that won’t be necessary.” What a weird man. “And are you sure it’s okay to let him wander by himself? What if he gets lost?”
She could hear him shifting around. “Rae, describe the dog you’re looking at to me please.” That amused tone was back.
“Well, he’s small, light brown, with a darker patch all around his middle, and white socks and a white nose. Shouldn’t you know what your dog looks like?”
“Rae, I’m going to give you my address, if you don’t want him all alone, you can drop him off yourself. How’s that sound?”
She reached the address Caleb gave her half an hour later. The sun had set and the moment she opened the car door, Captain bolted for the house, running around to the back. She thought about just leaving and heading back home, but looking up at this huge structure, something told her to stay.
She climbed the stairs and knocked on the front door. When it opened, she found herself staring at a man who had Connors eyes. Her heart skipped a beat.
“Hello, you must be Rae. Where’s Captain?” Rae was speechless. This man looked like Connor. She narrowed her eyes, tilted her head, even blinked a few times. No, that wasn’t right, he looked familiar, that was all. He just happened to have the same hair color and the same exact eyes.
Not your Connor. Rae’s eyes widened, yes! He looked like the man from Rebecca’s memories.
“Hello? Where’s my dog?” Caleb waved his hand in front of her face.
Snapping out of her daze, Rae apologized, “I’m sorry, you just stunned me for a moment. You look like – like someone I know.”
“This is a good thing, I hope.”
She shrugged and changed the subject. “Captain ran off the moment he got out of the car. Maybe around back?”
“I see. Would you like to come in?” He sounded amused again.
“Yeah, sure.” The moment she walked through the door it felt like an invisible cord tightened, simultaneously pulling her in, and trying to drag her out. “Whoa!”
“Are you well? You look like you’re about to throw up.” He took her by the arm and led her through a door to her left.
“Yes, yes. I just had a minute of panic that is all. I’m fine now.” What the hell was that?
“Panic? I’m not going to hurt you.” He held up his hands as if to prove his sincerity. Rae blinked again, Connor used to say that to her, in the beginning. All he proved was that he was a good liar.
“Okay, then. I guess the courteous thing to do would be to offer you something to drink. I think I might have tea and I definitely have some scotch.”
“No liquor, tea is fine.” She placed a hand on her stomach. Definitely no liquor.
Caleb raised an eyebrow and seemed to take in a deep breath, “You don’t drink…or you can’t drink?”
“Well, I’ll have the occasional glass of nectar, but no, I’m – I can’t.”
“I see,” he replied.
“Good morning Brian.” Rae walked down the stairs of Dr. Brian Gates home. She’d moved to Moonlight Falls so quickly, there had been no time to find a place to live. Dr. Gates – Brian – had opened his home to her.
“Hey, did you sleep well?” Brian asked.
“Yes, very. Listen, yesterday I met someone interesting. He lives up the road, in that huge spooky looking mansion. His dog, Captain, came by and I brought him home. Caleb, the guy, seemed a little weird, what’s his story?”
Brian looked alarmed. “You met Caleb Romajin? How exactly?”
“What? He invited me over. He was very nice, offered me tea.”
“Caleb does not invite strangers into his home, he rarely invites friends over! In fact, I can’t think of more than ten people who know what the inside of his house looks like.”
“Really? Tell me about him.” Rae walked over to the living room couch and sat down. Brian took a seat across from her.