Jamie was drifting off and about to drop the book he was reading when he heard the bell ring, signaling to him that there was finally a customer today. Plastering on his “Hi, welcome! How can I help you today?” smile, he readied himself for some know-it-all with glasses and a sweater vest to ask him about a genre that they didn’t have or an author he’d never heard of before. Thankfully, he was greeted with a much less irritating sight.
“Max? What are you doing here? You know we don’t have picture books,” Jamie joked, a real grin replacing his strained customer-service face. His fangs glinted in the rays of light escaping through the curtains–he didn’t feel the need to hide them around Max.
“Yes, I know,” Max sighed, unamused. That’s odd, Jamie thought to himself. He’s usually all smiley and cute. Why is today different?
“What’s wrong, love?” Jamie asked, closing the book in his hands after quickly memorizing the page number he stopped on.
Max reached the front desk and rested his chin on the countertop tiredly, letting out a whine.
Oh, Jamie realized, his eyes widening. It’s that time, isn’t it? It was obvious, just based on Max’s looks. His patches of fur were growing, his pupils were dilating, his five o’clock shadow was looking scruffier by the moment, and as he drummed his fingers mindlessly on the counter, the clickety-clack of his claws made it all too clear.
“Full moon’s in a few days, huh?”
Max gave only a sad, puppy-like expression in response, his head leaning to one side as Jamie caressed the side of his face in an effort to comfort.
“Look, my shift’s over in a few hours, so if you could wait just a–”
“Hours?” Max interrupted, his round, wide eyes beginning to shine with tears. “I can’t wait that long.”
“Can’t you ask Sal to take care of you? They don’t have anywhere to be today.”
“Yes, they do,” Max growled, his gaze sharpening with jealousy. “They have a date planned with Beatrice.”
“What about Willow?”
“I don’t want to bother her. She’s Sal’s mom, not mine.”
“She takes care of you all the time.” At this point, Jamie was just stalling until he could get someone to cover his shift. He knew there was no convincing Max today. This little wolf cub needed his emotional-support vampire and there wasn’t any stopping him.
“Do you need a hug?” Jamie asked, already turning his chair to the side to welcome Max as he scampered around the counter and practically jumped into his lap.
“Easy, slugger,” Jamie practically coughed out, losing his breath. “You’re almost bigger than me during a gibbous moon, remember?” He heard the bell ring again and tried to look presentable. How presentable can you look with a thirteen-year-old werewolf sprawled in your lap? he thought to himself as he exhaled through his nose.
“Jamie? What are you doing?” A familiar voice reached Jamie’s pointed ears.
“Tonya, hey,” he responded awkwardly, giving a half-shrug behind Max’s emotional heap. “I gotta take care of the puppy for a bit.” Gesturing to Max, Jamie’s mouth drew a thin, stretched line across his face as if to say, what else am I supposed to do?
“Oh, dear,” Tonya laughed lightly.
“Already done. I’ll start my shift early. Do what you gotta do.”
Max perked up the slightest bit, leaving Jamie’s lap but holding onto his hand, still requiring contact with some part of him. As Jamie was dragged away from the counter, he gave Tonya a wink.
“You’re the best.”
“No, you are. Taking care of your boyfriend like that. You’re every girl’s dream.”
“Not into girls, remember?” Jamie tilted his head to one side, tired of this conversation.
“Too bad,” Tonya teased, looking him up and down dramatically.
“Thank you,” Jamie said earnestly. “Really. He needs this.”
Tonya swatted the air with her hand. It’s nothing.
“Darling, I need to get up,” Jamie murmured for about the fifth time, his eyes half-closed. Max responded only with a sickened groan as his arms further wrapped around Jamie’s torso.
Sighing, Jamie kicked the remainder of his side of the blanket off his feet before attempting to break free of Max’s embrace.
“No,” Max simply croaked, barely awake.
“Yes,” Jamie replied in a velvety tone. “I need space, okay? You have your stuffed animals, your body pillow–”
“Mm…” Max moaned like a toddler. “Not the same.” Max’s arms began to relax, giving Jamie enough freedom to grab the body pillow from the foot of the bed.
“It’ll have to do for now,” he said, placing the body pillow beside Max before shuffling off the bed.
Letting out a long exhale, Max rolled over–asleep again–and started hugging the body pillow. Jamie sighed and shook his head.
“You’re lucky I love you,” he whispered with a soft laugh. He covered Max back up and gave him a kiss on the forehead–which he realized was quite warm. “And you’re lucky I can’t get sick,” he added, going to fetch some medicine.
After putting a sweater and some ripped jeans on, Jamie left a bottle of pain meds and a thermometer on the bedside table–hopefully Max would have enough sense to see them and know what to do when he woke up.
The bright rays of sun felt tingly on Jamie’s patches of exposed skin as he stepped out of the mouth of the cave, his bare feet touching the orange maple leaves that scattered the forest floor. Looking back at his shell of a home, he marveled–as he often did–at how different the exterior looked from the interior. After a century of immortal life, he had really made something special out of that cave.
And now, he thought to himself with warmth in his chest, I have someone to share it with. A second thought–a much darker one–threatened to smother the warmth.
But for how long?
Jamie’s head twitched to the side in discomfort, and he started walking through the forest, desperately trying to push that thought away like he had done so many times before. Why do I do this to myself? He fought the urge to hit himself as punishment, his fists clenching and shaking as he struggled to keep them down.
“Just keep walking, Jamie,” he told himself in hushed, rapid breaths.
With every step, he felt as if the forest was closing in on him. The trees seemed as if they were growing taller, threatening to block out the sky. He had to escape.
Taking long strides, he was running now, leaving a trail of maple leaf scraps floating in the air behind him. Darkness flickered in and out of his vision, and his rapid breathing wasn’t helping to dispel it. It wasn’t too long before the darkness took over completely.
When he came to, he was still running, but the trees were gone. His feet felt grass and not leaves. Stopping to catch his breath, Jamie bent over and rested his hands on his knees, inhaling and exhaling deeply until his breathing returned to normal.
You’re okay, he kept repeating in his head. When he was upright again, he saw his destination straight ahead.
The biggest tree in the forest. Standing in a clear meadow, above and apart from everything else. He ran towards it–glad to not be running away from something–and a familiar face faded into view.
“Beatrice!” Jamie called out with a grin.
“Hi, Jamie,” Beatrice responded, waving her right hand in the air. Transparent wisps of ghostly smoke surrounded her arm as it moved–the like floating semi-dormantly around the rest of her figure.
Jamie sat in the moss bed that surrounded the tree, leaning against the trunk tiredly.
“It’s so good to see you,” he sighed, smiling at Beatrice.
“Same to you. It’s been a couple of days,” she crooned, almost siren-like.
“Yeah. I’ve been a little busy taking care of Max.”
Beatrice giggled. “He’s quite a handful.”
“You could say that again,” Jamie joked, his mouth straining into a half-smile, half-cringe.
“Are you taking care of yourself?” Beatrice asked, her voice taking a more serious tone.
“Well, I’m doing the best I can. This is definitely good for me, though–getting out of the cave, out of the bookstore, away from everybody.”
“Has it been hard lately?” Beatrice said, cocking her head to the side with a sympathetic look.
Jamie’s eyes unfocused as he stared through Beatrice, wondering whether or not he should answer honestly.
“Hey,” Beatrice breathed, leaning in and looking at Jamie with eyes like a calm sea. “You can talk to me.”
Jamie remembered the scared little girl he once knew. The little girl who would seek comfort in his arms, falling asleep to the sound of his soft voice, dreaming of better days. He remembered the girl who told him secrets under the stars, lying side by side in the grassy fields that never seemed to change. It seemed to him that even after her death–after all these years of her life after death–Beatrice hadn’t changed much either.
As Jamie snapped back into reality, the truth started to spill out.
“It’s been harder and harder to keep myself together. And as if that isn’t hard enough, I have to keep Max together, what with all his PWS-ing, acting like a child while looking like a grown man. Do you know how awful that is?” Jamie felt a lump in his throat threaten to swallow up the rest of his words. He fought through the tears and kept going, not even caring whether or not Beatrice was there.
“I look at Max and I see everything I fear. No matter what stage of transformation he’s in, everything always reminds me of the same thing. When he’s small and harmless and innocent, all I can think is how he won’t be that way forever. When he’s hulking over me, I can’t help but picture the future. I can’t take this anymore, Beatrice. He’s gonna grow up and get old and then… and then…”
Jamie’s stutters grew unintelligible as he began to sob openly, falling to the grass below him, his shoulders shaking and his fists pounding the ground. Beatrice leaned over him, unable to physically comfort without phasing her hands through his body, but attempting to comfort with presence alone.
“I don’t want to be alone, Beatrice,” Jamie whimpered through shallow, shaky breaths. “I’m gonna outlive him. I don’t want this life. I want to be human again.”
“I know,” Beatrice said simply, knowing there wasn’t much else she could say.
Jamie sat up and looked at Beatrice with terrified eyes, his face painted with tear streaks.
“What am I supposed to do?” he asked with almost no hint of hope in his voice.
Beatrice’s hand phased through his as she stared at him with slight puzzlement.
“I ask myself that all the time.”
The two of them shared a moment of understanding. Two eternal beings caught in the chaos of love that wouldn’t last.
“How did we let ourselves fall in love, Beatrice?” Jamie asked, letting out a raspy laugh as another tear fell across his cheek.
“I don’t know,” she answered plainly. “Isn’t it strange?”
“Strange, wonderful, terrible, it’s all the same.”
They sat together, watching the clouds drift by, wondering what was left to say.