Sammy transformed into his human form and entered his house.
If Ambrose were with him, he would have had a panic attack and refused to come inside.
Rough-edged wooden tiles covered every inch of the foyer’s walls. Rectangular wood blocks of varying shades of brown were set in a zig-zag pattern in the floor, creating an optical illusion of staggered pillars if one stared at it too long. The air itself smelled like wood and fresh sawdust, intermingling with Sammy’s scent of sandalwood and incense.
Most days, Sammy loved the smell and feel of his home.
Other days, however, it filled him with dread and the fear of losing control.
On his worst days, it made him think of his past. It made him remember. It made him hate himself.
He entered his house and, in force of habit, pushed his emotions as far down as they could go. He locked them down, leaving behind a benign peace.
Sammy walked down the foyer’s long corridor to the end, turned left into a hallway lined with closed doors. He went to the one in the middle of the left wall and opened it.
He went down a long spiral staircase made out of flame-resistant metal. The oxidized copper of the ceiling and the walls resembled abstract art — turquoise and rust blended in a matte painting. It made him feel safe.
It felt like home.
But he kept his thoughts and emotions buckled down tight. It was like holding his breath — a long, deep breath — underwater. If he didn’t release that breath soon, his lungs would burst.
He reached the bottom of the staircase and flicked the light switch. A large crystal chandelier lit up the large, open room before him. The polished walnut floor shined bright with fireproofed dragon magic.
Doors lined the left side of the room: laundry room, bathroom, treasure room, storage room, and bedroom.
He went into his bedroom, closed the door, and exhaled with relief as he released his hold on his thoughts.
Sammy dropped into his bed and looked up at the ceiling. He thought about Deliosa and he smiled.
Rose vines climbed his bed’s black metal posts.
I can’t wait to see her again.
I can’t wait to introduce her to Mother. I hope they get along.
I hope Mother accepts her.
I love Lee. With her, I don’t have any missing pieces. I am me.
I am whole.
I feel loved.
Sammy sat up and removed his shoes. He tucked them under his bed.
I can’t wait to see her again.
“Thank you so much for the hot chocolate. It was delicious.” John stretched his arms and yawned.
Clarice smiled at him. “You’re delicious. Why don’t you spend the night here?”
He stopped in mid-yawn and lowered his arms. “Wha?”
“You sleep on the couch and I get the bed. Or the reverse, if you prefer.”
“No, I couldn’t. I—”
“You’re too tired to drive.” She smiled. “Don’t worry, you hunk of sweet, sweet lovin’. I won’t seduce you into sleeping with me. I will respect you and your boundaries. I’ll even line the hallway to my room with my husband’s old swords if that will make you feel better.”
John sank into an armchair. He rested his elbows on his knees. “Your husband. What was he like?”
She sat on the leather ottoman in front of him.
“Was he good to you and Elsie? Did he love you?”
Gerald’s face appeared in her mind.
Clarice hurried through the front door.
I’ve never left him alone with Elsie before. I hope he’s okay. I hope he didn’t have to change too many diapers. I hope she didn’t fuss too much.
She rushed past the living room only to stop.
Wait. Was that Gerald’s glow?
She returned to the living room.
Gerald sat on the couch with Elsie sound asleep in his arms.
Clarice set her purse down on a nearby table and came over to him.
He looked up at her.
The expression on his face.
The peaceful blue and green glow surging in and out of him.
Clarice fell a little more in love with her husband. She sat beside him.
“Is she really ours, Clarice? Ours to keep?”
She leaned her head against his shoulder. “As long as the trainers don’t claim her.”
“I will never let them do that.” He smiled lovingly at his small daughter. “Look at how she clenches her fists in her sleep. Whether or not she becomes a hunter, she will grow up to be a fierce little thing. I can tell.” He stroked her silken black hair with the side of his index finger. “I love her. I never thought I could love anyone this much, but so help me. I do.”
“He was very good to us. Even though he was a hunter, I trusted him. I knew that he would never hurt me or our child.”
John looked down at his hands. “Do you…do you still miss him?”
“Of course, I do. But I’m no longer crying myself to sleep every night. So, that’s progress, right?”
“And I am able to sleep in my own bed again.” He turned his hands upside down and contemplated his palms.
“I’ve stopped waiting for him to come home.”
“I don’t expect her to come into the shower with me anymore.”
“I’ve grown used to cooking for just me.”
He looked up at her. “I’d like you to cook for me.” His ears burned as he realized what that had sounded like.
She leaned forward and took his hands into her hands. “I’d love to cook anything for you, you wonderful specimen of masculinity.”
“Do you mean that? Do you really mean that?”
Clarice smiled. “I do. With no innuendo implied.”
“I’d like that. I mean, not the implied innuendo. I mean—”
She squeezed his hands. “Don’t worry, handsome. I know what you mean.”
I love her.
I really do.
Carolyn, do you mind?