Five years. Five years ago, his entire life changed. He could literally say that he was lucky to be alive and yet he felt anything but lucky. Connor tightened a bolt in the wind chime he was making. He should be getting ready for his appointment but he didn’t feel like going. Yes, that was petty of him, but he didn’t give a damn. They all knew why he was having these hiccups; the pretending was only for Rae’s benefit.
“Connor, we have to leave soon if we’re going make it on time!” Rae yelled down from the top of the stairs.
“Alright!” He put the half-finished widget down and headed towards the stairs. Why was this so hard?
“Sometimes, I think it happens because, you know, of me.” She ducked her head and blushed.
Connor grunted. “She’s my wife. This is bad, how?” Really? They were really talking about this?
Brian raised his hands. “No one said that it was bad. We’re just trying to understand what’s going on with you, that’s all.”
Connor looked at him, incredulous. He’d had enough of this. “Brian, I want you to look me in the eyes and tell me this isn’t stupid.” Rae gasped a little and he rolled his eyes. “Oh come on! My body responds to yours, sexually, because I’m your damn husband but since I’ve been suppressing it – for five years – the problem is back.”
He was tired of tiptoeing around the issue. His body needed to release all the energy it had. He’d come to accept that faster than Rae had and talking about it and blaming it on his sex drive wasn’t going to make it go away. The fact that he hadn’t touched his wife in any way even remotely sexual might be a factor but it wasn’t the main one. He needed to Change and it needed to be soon. But it scared her and so he’d been putting it off.
Brian looked at him, sympathy – or pity, he couldn’t tell – flashing in his eyes. “Perhaps giving Caleb a call would be wise.”
“No.” Rae shook her head vehemently. “We are not calling him. There has to be another way.”
He just didn’t get it. As Brian spoke soothingly to her, he stood up and started to pace. He didn’t remember much of that night but he knew that Dre had almost died. He’d been unable to help her in any way and that guilt weighed heavily on him. Sometimes he got the feeling she resented him a little but she refused to talk about it, even in therapy.
Twenty minutes later, they were in the car heading back home. He was focused on the road and not at all to her sitting there, eyes closed, head leaning against the glass pane. Nope, not even a little bit. He took a deep breath and sifted through the scents in the car. She was anxious, fearful, sad and even a bit angry. What the hell was she thinking?
“Stop trying to read me. It’s weird,” she said. She opened her eyes and looked at him. “Just ask me what you want to know.”
“Just want to make sure you’re okay.” He signaled a left before turning onto their street.
“You don’t smell fine.”
She didn’t respond, just closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the glass.
“I’m so confused, I don’t know what’s real and what’s fake anymore.” They’d driven the rest of the way home in silence, so he was shocked when she turned around in their bedroom and blurted that out.
He grabbed her forearms. He wanted to shake her until she woke up from the daze she seemed to be in. Instead, he forced himself to let go of her, to step back and take a deep breath.
“Us. We’re real. As real as it is ever going to get. How can you question that? I’ve spent fifteen years trying to prove to you how much I love you. I’m tired, I’m discouraged, but I want to keep on trying. You have to meet me halfway here though. I can’t do this on my own.”
“Connor…” She sighed and that’s all he needed to hear. You couldn’t convince someone of something they didn’t want to believe.
One minute they could be laughing, playing with the kids and just being happy; the next they would be fighting. He just didn’t get it. She loved him, he knew it in his soul, but she just couldn’t take that last step. She couldn’t let go of whatever small bit of doubt she had about him. Even after over a decade together, she still didn’t fully trust him. It was frustrating as hell!
“I need to clear my head. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” He turned and grabbed his running shoes. He needed to get out of this house and away from her for a while or he might do something stupid.
How could someone you know everything about, live with, and have children with, become a total stranger? Flipping through her spell book, she thought of all the years she’d put into this marriage. Had she ever really been happy?
That wasn’t fair. She had three amazing, special children, a husband who loved her, who would literally die for her. She should be the happiest woman in the world.
Finally finding the page she was looking for, she began mixing the ingredients for the spell. Her work with Brian had turned toward old world ritualistic potions. She spent most of her time these days collecting recipes from all over the world and trying to find their common day equivalent. She was basically a modern-day witch, sort of.
As she stirred the surprisingly pleasant smelling mixture, she thought of Becca. Rebecca once told her that Caleb was her soul mate and as crazy as she ended up being, Rae had felt the truth in those words. Not that she was Caleb’s soul mate, but that perhaps Connor wasn’t hers. Could a person love more than one man? Could she live with that knowledge, knowing that half of her heart belonged to someone else?
Putting down the bottle of wolfsbane, she walked over to her potions cabinet and pulled out the letter she’d hid in there last year.
He had apologized and she’d never known. The boy who had hurt her so badly, who’d made her question everything about herself had been sorry. She’d found his apology letter while flipping through her old high school notebooks. Her parents were selling the house in Starlight Shores and she and her sisters had gone to help them pack up. She’d almost missed the note again, ready to throw the notebook away. But Adeya had grabbed it and flipped through it. She was the one who’d shown Rae the letter at the very back of the book.
She read the letter again even though she knew it by heart now. Cameron. She’d loved him, she could admit that to herself now. She’d loved him and he’d hurt her, except, he hadn’t. Not intentionally.
Sighing, she tucked the piece of paper back in its hiding spot and headed upstairs. She didn’t know why that letter had struck such a chord in her but she couldn’t seem to let it go.
“What’s this?” Rae took the box out of his hands and opened it. He searched her eyes for some recognition of what today was, but she seemed genuinely puzzled. She didn’t remember. His smile fell from his face as she looked at the metal wind chimes he’d spent weeks making. “They’re beautiful. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He kissed her on the cheek and went to the head of the staircase. She hadn’t remembered their ten year anniversary. Wow. He supposed he ought to be upset, but all he felt was a dull ache in his chest. He headed down to his workstation.
After quitting his job, Brian had suggested he teach at the local University. With his advanced degree in Engineering and a recommendation from Brian, landing a position had been easy enough. He had never considered himself a teacher, but he discovered he loved helping his students discover new ways to think and be creative. Being an adjunct professor left him with a lot of time on his hands though, so he’d turned towards puttering around, making small things at home. Brian would sometimes ask him to build things, but mostly he made toys for the kids and other random things.
When he flipped on the light, he stared in shock. The room looked completely different. He turned around to find a grinning Rae standing behind him. “What did you do?”
“Don’t you like it? I thought we could spend some time together, even if we both have to work.” Her smile slipped a little, her eyes filling up with doubt.
“Rosie, I love it, but when did you do all this?” She’d knocked down the back wall and combined her work space with his. She often worked from home, but they rarely saw each other. It could be different now.
“I asked Brian to keep you busy this week and had the construction crew come in through the cellar. Since it was confined to just tearing down the one wall, it only took a couple of days. You really like it?” She shifted from foot to foot, looking anxious.
“Yeah, I really do. Thank you.” He pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her. She hadn’t forgotten after all.
“Happy anniversary Connor.”
“What?” He’d been staring at her as she got ready and it was a little unnerving.
“Your hair looks nice.”
“Thank you.” Rae looked at her husband’s reflection in the mirror. “I have that meeting, remember?”
“Yeah.” He kept looking at her as if he wanted to say something else.
She was getting nervous. He knew. She knew that he knew. Unable to sit still anymore, she got up and walked to the closet, flipping through her clothes to find something appropriate. It was harder to do with Connor standing there, but if she didn’t hurry, she’d be late and she didn’t want to make him wait for her. He’d done enough of that already.
Choosing a brightly patterned dress, she pulled it on and reached for the zipper. Connor brushed her hands aside and zipped it up for her. “I remember the first time you wore this dress.”
His hands brushed the back of her neck and slide across her shoulders and down her arms. His touch left goose bumps on her skin. He always had that effect on her. She shivered a little and turned around, looking up into his golden eyes.
“Really? When was that,” she asked. He was so close she could smell his aftershave. Closing her eyes, she wrapped her arms around him, placing her head on his shoulder. She really should get going, but it had been so long since she’d stood in his arms. She missed it, badly. They always seemed to be going in the opposite direction of each other lately; it was nice to just be still with him for a few moments.
“The day I asked you to marry me, along the pier in SV. You look as beautiful now as you did then.” He kissed her lightly on the top of her head and stepped out of her embrace. “You better go. You don’t want to be late for your meeting.”
Before she could even utter a word of protest, he turned around and left their bedroom. Sighing, she chose matching shoes for her dress and finished getting ready. She stopped to take a final look at herself in the mirror. She didn’t know how he knew, but he did.
Opening the door to the Bistro, she looked around until she spotted Cameron. Waving in his direction, she navigated the tables towards him. He stood up and hugged her when she was close enough. When they were both seated, they shared a moment of awkward silence before he smiled and said, “Hey.”
“Hey.” She couldn’t help grinning back. He looked exactly how she remembered him, except older. She couldn’t believe seventeen years had gone by since they last saw each other. “How have you been?”
“I’ve been good. How about you? You look beautiful.” He said that last part shyly, as if worried about her reaction. She couldn’t blame him. The Rae he knew had been painfully shy and wary of compliments. Before Connor, she’d been suspicious of all flattery and aggressive with her denials.
She smiled at him. “Thank you. You look good too. Your hair has gotten a bit darker, but you look exactly like I remember you.”
He gave her a mock look of shock, “Dear Lord, I hope not! I was an awkward looking kid.” When she laughed, he smiled at her. “Although, if you remember me as a good looking guy, I can’t be too upset about that, can I?”
She laughed again. He always could make her laugh. It was one of the things she had liked about him – one of the reasons she had said yes when he asked her to prom. Well, that and the fact that he was the only person who’d asked.
“Have you been here before?” He looked down at the menu and Rae had to force herself to do the same.
“No. This place just opened up and I thought this was a good reason to come.” Plus, it was far enough out of town that she hoped no one would recognize her.
“I see,” he said. Did he? “How’s your family doing? I imagine you spoke to Sarah?”
She had. That’s how she’d managed to contact him. He and Sarah were neighbors. “It’s such a small world, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is.”
The waiter came then and took their orders. Rae and Cameron made small talk throughout dinner, never really discussing why they were actually meeting. Once the food was cleared away and the dessert menu was placed in front of them, Rae turned to look at him. It was now or never.
“I found your letter.”
He looked up at her, confused. “What do you mean? You just found it?”
She nodded. “It was in an old notebook and I never looked through it. I found your note only a year ago. If I had known…”
He smiled sadly at her. “I thought you just didn’t want to see me.”
He reached a hand out and stroked her cheek. She looked into his eyes and felt…nothing. His touch didn’t cause her to shiver nor did it raise goosebumps on her skin. Not the way Connor’s touch did. She smiled and moved her head slightly and he let his hands fall back onto his lap.
“So tell me about your life, Rae Rose. I feel like we have a lot to catch up on.” He looked down at his menu, breaking eye contact.
“Well, I ended up going to APU. I got my degree in History and Literature and then my Ph.D. in Rituals and World Science. I’m married. Ten years last February. I have three amazing children, a girl and twin boys. What about you?”
“Are you happy?” He glanced up at her.
“Yes. I am.” She smiled and realized it was true. She was happy. She loved her children, she had a great job and she loved her husband, very much.
Cameron stood up and helped her up from her seat. “I’m glad. I need to be heading out if I want to make it home before it gets too dark. Perhaps we can do this again.”
She smiled a little. They both knew they wouldn’t meet again, not for dinner or anything else. What they could have potentially had was gone. She hugged him, said goodbye and then hurried home to her family.
On the drive back, she debated telling Connor. She had a feeling that he knew and not telling him would cause him undue stress but she was afraid. What if he didn’t understand why she had to do it. What if he became angry?
When would she begin to fully trust in this man who had given her everything?
She talked herself in and out of telling him at least a dozen times before she reached her house. Although it was only nine, it was silent and dark inside. The boys would be upstairs and Eva was away, since she’d been spending her summers with Siobhan, learning God knows what. Perhaps Connor was working downstairs.
She let herself in the front door and walked to their bedroom. She’d kicked off her shoes and was removing her jewelry when he walked in.
“You’re home.” He walked over and gave her a kiss. When his lips touched her cheek a familiar and comforting zing of electricity shot through her. In the last few years, she’d learned to control her magic.
It was funny, but Eva had been her best teacher. Watching her daughter learn and show off her powers had made her feel less alone. They had learned together and checked each other when either of them had an off day. Her being gone for two months out of the year hurt Rae’s heart.
She smiled softly. “I am.”
“Did you have a good time?” He started to message the back of her neck. She hadn’t realized how tense she was until the muscles there loosened.
She got up and pulled him down toward the vacated seat. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she kissed him. He wrapped his own arms around her waist and pulled her in close. This is how all their conversations should start, she mused.
Pulling away, she looked at him. He had a silly grin on his face and she knew it wouldn’t be there for long. “I need to tell you something.”
“What?” Connor looked up at his wife. She was nervous, just like she’d been earlier in the day when she was getting ready for her date. His arms tightened around her body. He’d known she was going to see someone. It was in her body language, her scent. She’d been nervous and giddy and slightly ashamed. He’d let her go though. At least this way, they could stop all the pretenses.
“I went to meet an old friend today.” She paused, as if gathering her courage. “I went to dinner with Cameron.”
It took him a moment to place the name but when he did, it took all he had to keep his face passive, to keep the smile from slipping from his face. She’d gone to meet her old boyfriend, her first love. He was extremely close to going into a rage.
It took a lot more effort to stay calm now that he had an animal trapped in his body. And since she was against him changing on any night other than the full moon, it was a constant battle with his emotions. He couldn’t get too hungry, too tired, too worked up. He was constantly full of energy and had to make an effort not to lash out at his family. Talking to Caleb helped. He had a soothing quality about him and just being near his brother calmed him down. But even the small contact he had with Caleb made Rae upset.
When he didn’t say anything, she looked down, breaking eye contact. “I’m sorry.”
She meant it, he could sense that much.
“Look at me Rae.” Her eyes flickered up to his. He let go of her, holding on to the chair instead. He didn’t want his hands on her in case she gave him the wrong answer to his next question. “Did you cheat on me?”
She blinked at him. Then shook her head. “No.”
He breathed in her scent and could smell the other man on her. He’d touched her. He’d had his body on hers. “Did you kiss him? Did he touch you?”
“Answer my question, Rae Rose.” He knew he was growling, but he couldn’t help it. The thing inside him wanted to go track down the owner of the foreign scent on her body and kill him.
“No. I didn’t kiss him. We hugged goodbye that was it.”
He looked into her eyes. The truth then.
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Not tonight, not ever.” He wrapped his arms around her again, pulling her close. Relief singing through his body. He wanted to bathe her to remove the offending smell off her body and then he wanted to make love to her. It had been too long and she no longer smelled like him at all.
He closed his eyes. Jesus, this is how he thought now. Like an animal, wanting to mark and kill things. He shuddered and then jerked in surprise when he felt her lips on his.
“I love you Connor. I know we have a lot to work through, but I love you and I want only you. I crave only your touch on me, no one else’s.” She kissed him again and pulled him to his feet. “I want to be with no one else, only you.”
She traced an eyebrow and he knew his eyes must have been glowing. She didn’t seem to care though. He helped her out of her dress and kissed her again. “You have to go take a shower. I can still smell him on you.”
She looked at him and smiled softly, nodding. Later, they crawled into bed together. She snuggled down and wrapped her body around his and he held her in his arms. This could work; they could work.
He looked down at her. She was tracing lazy patterns on his chest. “A penny for your thoughts,” he said.
“I love you.” She looked up at him.