I have a new free read to share! Welcome to Phases of Moon, a new paranormal tale where I delve into my own version of werewolves that’s been sitting on the back burner for longer than I prefer to admit.
This story will be part of the flash fiction group, Wednesday Briefers. Every Wednesday, I’ll be posting a chapter with a maximum of 1000 words, giving you an ongoing taste of this serial. The short format keeps me committed to regular posting and continuous story telling. A win-win for everyone!
Wednesdays will be set for 1000 word installments, while the remainder of the chapter will post on Thursday.
More of Sawyer after waking…
Part 43 – Chapter 21
continued from part 36…
“Hey, hey, slow down. There’s plenty more. I don’t want you getting sick.”
“Sorry. I didn’t realize how thirsty I was.”
“It’s not your fault.” Jimmy brushed his fingers through Sawyer’s hair, an act soothing and piquing the ongoing mystery.
“Did something bad happen last night?”
Jimmy tried to hide it, but fine creases formed between his eyebrows. “There’s a lot to tell, but I’ll explain everything. I promise. But, let’s get some food in you first. You’ve gotta be pretty hungry.”
“Starving, now that you mention it.”
As soon as it was said, hunger flared in his gut strong enough to put his worries aside. A deep inhale drew a line to the aromatic pot simmering on the stove. Inside the fragrant stew, he could smell chicken and shrimp and a healthy batch of spices. Every ingredient called out, allowing Sawyer to recognize the entire recipe without tasting. He had to swallow before he drooled on the floor.
Or in the pot as he leaned over it.
Jimmy took a scoop of rice from a second pot and centered it in a bowl. To serve the stew he had to nudge Sawyer back, who made a weird noise which sounded suspiciously like a growl. Jimmy didn’t seem to mind. He ladled a healthy portion over the rice and walked it to the table. Sawyer nearly tripped over a chair, his gaze fixated on the bowl. Before Sawyer followed through with the urge to dive in face first, Jimmy plunked a spoon into his hand.
Sawyer tried to play off how amazing the dish was due to being ravenous, but past the craving, he knew champion comfort food. Wow, it was probably better than his mother’s beef stew. Those words would never be uttered aloud in any circumstance. For whatever reason, everything smells better and tasted better today. The bottom of the bowl appeared in record time. Another one of those embarrassing growls came out of Sawyer when Jimmy reached for the bowl.
“There’s plenty. I’m getting you more,” he said.
The second bowl calmed the hunger pains, but didn’t slow Sawyer down. He was halfway through when he stopped, spoon still in his mouth, as he noticed Jimmy’s rapt stare, looking far too pleased with himself.
“What?” Sawyer’s teeth rattled against the spoon, but he wasn’t giving up the mouthful.
Jimmy shook his head, tired yet grinning. I like feeding you.”
“It’s really good. You should have been cooking for me a long time ago.” Two more spoonfuls bit the dust as he responded without pausing. His mother would be aghast to see Sawyer’s manners vanish over one—make that, two bowls of gumbo that were most certainly not better than her beef stew. Nope.
A warm chuckle rose out of Jimmy, a dissonance to his weariness. “I probably should have. This house isn’t supposed to be permanent.”
“No. More like housesitting for a client so it isn’t sitting vacant.”
Cocking his head, Jimmy’s focus on Sawyer tightened. “You’re squinting.”
“It’s too bright in here.”
Jimmy’s enthusiasm dimmed with a nod. “Right. That’ll probably pass.”
This time Sawyer didn’t react out loud when Jimmy took the bowl for a third helping, but he fought the urge to defend his food. He couldn’t believe he wanted more. Whatever had gone on last night must have burned more calories than he’d ever managed with his most brutal workouts. He couldn’t imagine what kind of exercise warranted it. His appetite may have been stable, but last night continued to be shrouded from him.
At the stove, Jimmy’s back formed a wall as he gathered another serving of rice.
“How did I get here?” Sawyer asked.
Jimmy’s shoulder went rigid and he stalled, the rice short of entering the bowl.“You had a rough night.”
“Did I get drunk or high or something?”
The lid closing the pot of rice seemed abnormally loud. “No! No. I wouldn’t have let anything like that happen.”
Sawyer breathed a sigh of relief. His sobriety was a badge of honor he wore with great pride. Breaking it and not remembering would have crushed him. “Okay. These are your clothes. What happened to mine?”
“They couldn’t be salvaged.” Jimmy’s voice softened as he took his time spooning the gumbo over the rice. Stalling?
“Was I sick or something?”
“You had a fever. I’ve been watching over you all night.”
“Looks like I’m doing fine okay, now.”
Jimmy returned to the table and set the filled dish in front of Sawyer, urging him to eat. “Looks like it.”
Disquiet colored every inch of Jimmy’s substantial frame and the smell of the food distracted Sawyer again. “Okay, I stil have lots of questions, but that gumbo is calling me name.” Licking his lips, Sawyer prepared to tuck in, but he saw dark stains on his cuffs from his sloppy eating. Yes, he’d set his etiquette to the side for the first two bowls, but he wasn’t an animal. To keep from making more of a mess, he pushed up his sleeves to his elbows, exposing red scars lining his forearms.
“What the hell?”
“Sawyer, I can explain.”
Deep and half-healed, the slashes didn’t bleed but gave a slight ache when he flexed his forearms. When he pulled at his sleeves, they continued. How far did they go? The cuts ran in groups like the marks from a handheld garden rake in fresh soil.
Or claw marks…
Sawyer jerked upright, flipping his chair and jarring the table. The bowl of gumbo bounced, splashing and crashing to the floor, splintering in wet shards on the linoleum tile. His bare feet slapped with erratic steps as he scrambled out of the kitchen, dashing for the bathroom. He needed to see.
Perched over the chipped porcelain sink, the mirrored face of the medicine cabinet shined like a beacon, a door into a world Sawyer wasn’t sure he wanted to be part of. He yanked the collar to one side, exposing more slashes over his shoulder. Air sawed in and out of his lungs at inconsistent speeds.
Jimmy appeared behind him. “Sawyer, wait.”
He pleaded but didn’t stop him from frantically tugging the shirt over his head. Sawyer’s hands were still bound in the gathered sleeves when he could see himself in the mirror again. It didn’t help.
Twisting at the waist made his back’s raked flesh visible. A haphazard lattice of anguish marred it worse than the damage to his arms, accented by the arc of jagged marks wrapping from front to back over shoulder. He stepped closer to his reflection, leaning over the sink. He reached out, stopping his fingertips short of the glass and drawing them into a fist as if the mirror could prevent the marks from being real. Perfect rows of punctures mocked him, the kind made by an animal’s teeth, but the area was too wide, too deep. He winced in pain when he touched the bruised area over his collarbone.
“You’re healing fast. It looks much better.”
Sawyer knew he meant the comment to be reassuring, but all it did was strike fuel to the kindling. “It was worse than this? How?”
The ache from his arms could be felt down his backside and legs, hidden from view. Years of work, perfecting his vanity, one of the few things which had always been his to groom, undone and ruined. A spoiled canvas he didn’t want to look at, but couldn’t tear his eyes away from the spectacle. Tears clouded his vision, but the fog in his head parted, and last night’s events stormed into the present, unrestrained like lightning.
Claws. Bite. Jimmy. Agony. Terror.
Sawyer believed in the real world and rejected the fantastic. Religion and the paranormal held no sway over him since he’d fought so hard against his own inner demons to give credibility to things he couldn’t see or touch. He was too rational to be a storyteller, and even though his memories shouldn’t be possible, he saw, he smelled, he felt the horrors of the night. They kicked their way into the real world and there was no denying it.
“Oh god…” Sawyer stepped backward, away from the mirror and the unraveling of everything he knew, only to collide with Jimmy, the man at the center. He clutched Sawyer’s shoulders with a light touch, obiovusly well aware of the damage.
“What do you remember?” Jimmy’s whisper choked and barely made a sound.
In rehab, Sawyer had been forced to confront his issues, to say them out loud and take away their power. He’d hated the exercise, because deep down he hid who he was, and never gave it voice, hobbling himself for years in a sham marriage. When he’d finally been shoved out of the closet, he promised he wouldn’t keep secrets from himself. He wouldn’t hide reality and use lies to cloud the truth.
It didn’t make it easier.
Pushing these first words into the open was harder than admitting Jada had been right a thousand fold. They came out in halting surges laced between trying to contain the sobs.
“I was running in the forest like I do all the time. A huge wolf appeared. Cornered me. When I tried to leave, it attacked me. Clawed me up. Used me like a chew toy.”
Jimmy dropped his head forward, placing his forehead against the back of Sawyer’s tousled hair. His shuddering breath heated Sawyer’s neck as his hands squeezed. It stung Sawyer’s shoulders but the ache kept him from creating an argument against the proof lining his body as he continued.
“Then you showed up.”
A stifled sob puffed across Sawyer’s nape.
“You turned into a wolf.” This time Sawyer waited for a response, waited to be told he was wrong. Silence only increased the dread.
Jimmy finally spoke, his voice coarse and defeated. “Yes.”
Oxygen rushed out of his lungs, and the world changed forever.
“You killed the other wolf.”
Snapping his head up, Jimmy’s reddened eyes red were full of fury as they stared into Sawyer’s through the reflection. “To save you, yes.”
“It turned back into a man.”
Jimmy hesitated. “Yes.”
Sawyer stepped forward and scrubbed the salty streaks from his cheeks. The borrowed shirt was still bundled around his arms, so he tucked his head inside and tugged it down his arms and body, until he’d covered himself again. The sight upset him too much to gather his thoughts.
And he had many.
He turned around and faced Jimmy. The mirror couldn’t shelter him from unpleasant memories anymore. It wasn’t actually a doorway into another world, it could only show him what he didn’t want ot see.
“I don’t remember anything else until I woke up in your bed.”
No one deserved the ability to be so handsome while simultaneously wrecked, but Jimmy pulled it off effortlessly. Sawyer wanted to angry with him, wanted to blame him, but he recalled Jimmy’s ferocity, the ruthless way he defended him. Jimmy had every right to feel proud of saving Sawyer’s life, but he looked beaten. Crushed.
“You fell unconscious. I brought you here and took care of you.”
“You didn’t take me to a hospital?”
“You know why.”
Sawyer nodded in agreement, because he knew the answer. People never liked the “other” in their midst. They never had, regardless of which minority showed its face. Things were better but not great. And this was way too new, too outside the norm to trust anyone. It would have been too risky for Jimmy to explain the cuts and slashes to anyone. Sawyer found himself unconsciously tracing his wounds through the shirt with his fingers. “It bit me. Am I going to turn into a wolf?”
“Something like that.”
A sad keen spilled into the little room, echoing off the tile as Sawyer’s eyes burned and his sight blurred. How was he supposed to handle this? What life lesson prepared a man to become something else? He wrapped his arms around himself and dug his fingers into the chasms he could feel under his sleeves, letting the searing points punish him for whatever sin he’d committed.
Jimmy rushed forward and pried Sawyer’s hands away, holding them in his. “Don’t. We’ll get through this.”
The determination in Jimmy’s eyes matched the strength he used to keep Sawyer from hurting himself further. A scream built inside Sawyer, and he lurched forward, and smothered it into Jimmy broad chest. Jimmy released his hands and closed his arms around Sawyer, kissing his temple until the howling finally subsided.
Gasping and worn out, Sawyer pulled back, dragging his cheek against Jimmy’s until he found his waiting lips. Sawyer pushed for more contact and Jimmy returned his fervor. His solid body served as an anchor, tethering Sawyer, lashing him to a sliver of hope. Clumsy and desperate, they clutched at one another making unspoken promises, because it was all they had in the tiny bathroom with chipped tile.
Kisses slowed and heartbeats calmed. The urge to cry and rant became buried under his battered skin. They slowly parted and Sawyer took Jimmy’s hand and led him out of the bathroom and back to the kitchen. If he had any chance to salvage his situation, he’d have to clean up the messes he’d made along the way.
He started with the gumbo. God, what a mess. The spatters reached the far wall and Sawyer felt horrible at the waste of something so good. Jimmy grabbed a rag and cleaned up the spill while Sawyer picked up the broken shards, in spite of Jimmy worrying he’d cut himself on the sharp pieces. He didn’t. Once the kitchen had been set to right, Jimmy gathered a fresh serving, only this time he spooned a bowl for himself as well, and they ate together. The revelation of Sawyer’s future hadn’t dulled the gumbo’s awesomeness.
Sawyer’s spoon scraped the bottom of the bowl, the noise pulling him back to unanswered thoughts. “Why me?”
With a haggard sigh, Jimmy pushed his half-eaten bowl aside. He’d spent more time watching Sawyer eat than helping himself. He stalled for a moment as if deciding how much he should say. “Best answer I have is: you fit the profile. The area pack hired me to hunt down a rogue wolf serial-attacking regular people. I was tracking him and figured out you could be a target. I got lucky I found you when I did.”
“How did you know where to find me?”
Jimmy dipped his head and stared at the table, painting lazy circles on its surface with his index finger. “I’ve been running with you as a wolf for the last few weeks. Stalker, remember?”
Reaching across the table, Sawyer stopped Jimmy’s hand. The nervous movement was frustrating him. “Thank you for saving me. Not the stalking part.”
“A lot of that’s my wolf side. He wants to protect you at all costs and dials my instincts up to eleven. Now that you’ve been hurt… maybe higher. I’ll try to keep it under control.”
Stress lines crinkled the areas around Jimmy’s eyes as he confessed. Admitting his faults couldn’t be easy for a confident man who always seemed in control except for days he had to have awkward conversations with Sawyer. This was miles beyond awkward, but Sawyer appreciated his efforts even if it didn’t completely calm his nerves. Nothing could do that.
“You talked about an area pack. There’s more out there?”
“Yes, but I’ve only met the alpha. Wolves need packs. Being alone, being a stray is hard on us. It goes against our nature. This was my petition to joining.”
“How long have you been alone?”
Still holding Jimmy’s hand, Sawyer gave it a squeeze, sending whatever support he could in his own fragile state. Here he was, bitten by a werewolf—oh man, that sounded so ridiculous when he used those words—and he was more relieved his blackout hadn’t been a break in his sobriety than the fact he was turning into a movie monster. His dubious priorities made him wonder if he’d be needing a straitjacket and padded cell before long, because he was pretty sure he should he drooling on the floor in a fetal position by this point.
He could feel every crease in Jimmy’s hand and could almost pick out the ridges of his fingerprints. The dingy kitchen appeared more vibrant than it should regardless of the afternoon light spilling in the window.
“This is why everything feels so sharp. So bright.”
Jimmy nodded, but his tone lacked any excitement. “You’re changing. Healing. Getting ready for your first shift.”
“How much time do I have?”
He winced. “Until the next full moon. A few weeks.”
For a mysterious stranger with a dark secret, Jimmy’s poker face would leave him penniless. He had yet to stop finding the table fascinating and look up. Being bitten must not have been anything to celebrate. Jimmy’s replies had been cryptic and vague—a sign of something dangerous lurking around the corner. One more needle into Sawyer’s worries, keeping them constantly in front.
“Will you help me?” Sawyer hated sounding so feeble and needy, but he wasn’t standing on firm ground.
Jimmy’s head snapped up and his eyes flashed amber for a split second. “I’m not going anywhere.”
A simple declaration, but it went a long ways to settling Sawyer’s apprehension since he suspected it came from both Jimmy and his wolf. He wondered how often that might happen.
“Good. I’m going to have lots of questions.”
“I’ll answer what I can. While we figure this out, I’m going to be watching over you. Closer than before. My wolf—I need to know you’re safe.”
“Stalker. Got it. Right now, I’m okay with that.”
Jimmy’s eyes watered but no tear fell. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t want this for you.”
“Me either. Is this how you became a wolf?”
“No. I was born like this.” Clearing his throat, Jimmy rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes.
“I think I would have preferred that route.”
He let out a sad chuckle. “Me too.”
Not much more was said. The pervading sense of uncertain future hung over them and Sawyer was too busy processing what he’d learned so far to ask for more information. Stress stifled his appetite and even Jimmy only ate one bowl before they declared the meal finished.
They put away the remaining gumbo—despite the amount already eaten, there was a fair amount to store because Jimmy said he didn’t know how to cook for small groups. They washed the dishes together, Sawyer drying and placing them in the cupboards where Jimmy told him. The furnishings came with the place, provided by the local pack alpha. Sawyer didn’t know what to think of that. Despite the unbelievable circumstances, the whole scene felt strangely domestic.
Sawyer closed the cabinet to find Jimmy wavering. The man hadn’t likely slept all night watching over him. When Sawyer took his hand, Jimmy’s weary gaze focused on how their fingers intertwined.
“Come on. You’re about to fall out. Time for a nap.”
The barest tug had Jimmy following Sawyer out of the kitchen. “I have an errand to run tonight. Put this to rest.”
“I won’t let you oversleep.”
Weaving his way back to the bedroom, he towed Jimmy with no resistance. The covers were still pulled back and Jimmy climbed in when prompted. Before Sawyer could cover him with the blankets, Jimmy reached out and clasped Sawyer’s wrist.
“Need you close. Please.”
Sawyer checked to make sure his borrowed shirt continued to cover his wounds and climbed in next to Jimmy. At once, Jimmy pulled Sawyer close like a favorite stuffed animal, burying his face in the crook of his neck and inhaling deep over and over. The comforting heat of Jimmy’s body blanketing him tied into the woodsy, gentle musk without cologne. His wounds burned at the pressure, but not enough to to ask him to move. It wasn’t how Sawyer pictured their first time in bed together, but it wasn’t horrible. Not at all.
He should have let Jimmy drift away, but a few nagging thoughts refused to be silent.
“Who was he? What did you call him? The rogue?”
Jimmy didn’t raise his head, talking into Sawyer’s neck with a rumbling voice softening by the second. “Don’t know. Just he was part of the local pack.”
“Did he go after me to get to you?” Sawyer stroked Jimmy’s head enjoying the wild locks between his fingers.
“Don’t think so. You look similar to other victims. Alpha said a number of the pack use your bank.”
“I don’t need to know that.” The thought multiple werewolves had been his customers over the years wasn’t easing his nerves. Thankfully, Jimmy was doing a pretty good impression of a weighted blanket and it was working.
“It’s okay. None of them really know me, and there’s no reason anyone knows your my mate.”
Sawyer’s hand stilled in Jimmy’s hair.
Jimmy shifted, drawing Sawyer deeper into his embrace sounding all too groggy and pleased with himself. “My mate.”
“Don’t explain. I think I can figure that out for myself better than other part of this crazy nonsense.”
Hands flexing, Jimmy gripped and released Sawyer’s shirt, showcasing the frustration he didn’t have the energy to explain. “This isn’t how I wanted you to find out.”
“Would you have told me if this hadn’t happened?”
The barest nod brushed into Sawyer’s neck. “Planned to before we could get more serious.”
Sawyer laughed, trying to keep his volume low. “More serious?”
“My wolf would have bent you over and taken you the day we met at the bank. I want you so bad, but I have to take it slow. Make sure you’re the right one. Once a wolf mate-bonds, we’re all in. There’s no going back. Until then, we both have a choice. I wouldn’t take yours from you.”
The more Jimmy spoke, the more his words slurred, and the further he floated out of wakefulness. Sawyer almost felt guilty slowing his journey into sleep, but the moment was oddly special in spite of the tension hanging over them both. Honest and intimate, it made Sawyer feel safe, and reinforced his trust in Jimmy. He never wanted it to end.
“I believe you. You’d let me choose, but you’d influence me every step of the way, wouldn’t you?”
“Did it work?”
Jimmy’s breathing leveled out as he let go of the world and his body became a dead weight. It was the first time he’d seen Jimmy at peace all afternoon. The fierce protector slept like an angel. Sawyer shuddered as he dropped a kiss to Jimmy’s head.
Stay tuned … Chapter 22 begins next Wednesday!