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Shay Sheridan - Reality

Chapter 10 - Chiaroscuro


Regina threw the telephone across the room, getting a little thrill from the violence as it smashed into the wall and began to buzz. How dare he! He'd taken her to his house, the cottage — and not only that, but out to meet his mother. That was unacceptable! Those places existed for THEM, for Michael and herself, not for him and that little waif–

She began to pace across her bedroom walking the distance, exactly 23 feet by 25 feet, wall to wall, window to window, making a circuit of the room, not even registering the dizzying view from her forty-second floor apartment. Far below a boat crawled down the East River. People hurried home to their families, or to their cats. Lights were coming up all over town with the setting of the sun.

Regina saw none of it.

She rubbed her left temple. The headache which had begun with Robert's call showed all the signs of becoming a migraine, but with a perverse pleasure she welcomed the pain. What she saw before her eyes, with blinding clarity, was something even more sickening: that girl (she couldn't bring herself to think her name) and Michael, HER Michael, writhing in passion together, in his house out on the island, on other nights in his loft downtown, and even, in her imagination, on the leather couch in his office, just on the other side of her wall. Robert Burleigh hadn't reported that to her, but she imagined it was only a matter of time before they would DARE to pursue their cloying relationship in front of her. Dare, hell! They would do it brazenly, practically inviting her to watch, torturing her, twisting a dagger through her heart, through her brain, through her eyes, leaving the musky smell of their foul congress behind them to choke her.

Regina stopped her pacing and went to the table by her bed. In the drawer she found a small box, carved beautifully into filigree by an unknown artist. Michael gave that to me, she gloated. He said it was a birthday gift, but I know it meant much, much more. She put her hand inside the box, toying with the button from his shirt, the small bottle of cologne she'd taken from his house, a photo of the two of them from an office party, the key case he thought he'd lost, and in a little gold box the lock of dark hair she'd snipped from his head while he slept. Talismans, she thought. They made him hers. Her property.

Frowning, she tossed the box with its contents onto her bed. She wasn't a witch. These tokens were useless as long as the girl was in the picture, seducing him from his rightful partner. Stealing him from HER.

Which is unacceptable.

The pain in her head was becoming unbearable. She threw herself across the bed, pulling the lock of hair through her fingers, rubbing it lightly over her throbbing temple, willing the pain away, whispering Michael's name over and over again like an incantation.


"Am I ever going to meet this 'Mike?'"

Tony stared across the table at Virginia. She paused, a plate of asparagus in one hand, a beer in the other. She put them down carefully in front of her father before answering. "Sure, Dad. Soon."

Tony reached for the beer and unscrewed the top. "How soon is soon?"

"Well, it's — soon. You know."

Tony made a face at her, but Virginia wasn't looking. For the past few weeks he'd barely seen her. Her evenings and weekends were spent either at work or with this Mike person who seemed to have swept her off her feet. She wasn't around much during the day either, and he suspected she'd changed work shifts to the lunch hour so she could spend even more time with Mike.

It's hell living with a grown-up daughter, he grumbled to himself. There had been a few nights she hadn't come home at all, and while that troubled him as only a father could be troubled, he knew if he made a scene about it she wouldn't come home ever. He wondered when he'd lost control of his home life. Probably from day one, he thought grimly.

He hoped she was being careful. He hoped she wasn't doing anything she would regret. He hoped Mike was a decent guy. He hoped he'd get to meet him.

He decided to try one more time. "No, really, Virginia, please bring him by here. I really do want to meet him." A thought crossed his mind. "You're not ashamed of me, are you?"

Well, that WAS the problem, actually. Virginia suddenly felt a pang of guilt. She was hurting Tony's feelings. He really is an okay guy, she reasoned, if a hopeless screw-up. And Mike certainly has an odd side to his family... "Okay," she said, trying to hide the resignation in her voice. "How about Friday?"

"Good. That's good. We'll sit and talk --"

"We'll stop by on our way out, Dad."

"Good enough. Pass me the meatloaf."

Virginia passed the meatloaf, then glanced at the clock. 5:30. Time to get ready.

"Aren't you eating?"

"Nope. I'm meeting Mike at his office. We're going out." She smiled at him and went down the hall.

"Hmm. Going out. Again. Sure." Tony took a mouthful of meatloaf and called after her retreating figure. "Come home at a decent hour, okay?"

Virginia didn't answer.


Veronica the receptionist smiled her usual bland smile at Virginia. She dialed a number and another woman, a model-thin redhead with tawny eyes, appeared to lead the way back to Mike's office. Virginia had by now been in the offices several times, but evidently no one was allowed to go back to the inner sanctum without an escort.

The redhead was Shira, Mike's secretary. Virginia remarked to herself yet again how striking the people were who worked at Thurson/Wolf. Where they'd gotten all these gorgeous people, male and female, she couldn't guess. Maybe, she mused, there's an employment agency specializing in exotic beauties who can type. But it wasn't just the secretarial help. As they passed down the hall, Virginia looked into some of the other offices. In one a tall, fortyish blond man with Viking features was in discussion with a handsome woman, her silver hair caught up in a french twist. They looked like actors from a foreign film. Across the hall a pale-eyed man with swarthy skin and jet black hair was admonishing an assistant. The underling looked for all the world like he would have put his tail between his legs, if he'd had one. Virginia smiled to herself at the image.

"Just wait here," Shira said. "I'm sure Mr. Wolf won't be long. I'll be leaving now, so if you need anything --"

"No, no, I'll be fine."

Virginia sat down on the soft leather couch, looking out the window at the sky. How beautiful it was, she mused. Or maybe that was just her mood. Yesterday morning when she'd awakened, tangled in the sheets of Mike's bed in his wonderful TriBeCa apartment, she'd felt so content, so happy, that she could hardly keep from laughing. Mike had wondered at her gaiety, but she couldn't explain it in words. She'd had to show him. Just thinking about how she'd showed him made her want to both laugh and blush.

"You must be the young woman my grandson is seeing."

The voice behind her was rich and low, with a hint of gruffness. Virginia swiveled, squeaking on the leather.

She sprang to her feet. "Hello, yes, I'm uh-Virginia." She was in the presence of a, well, PRESENCE. He was an imposing figure all right, not as tall as Mike but broad-shouldered and heavier, giving the impression of vast strength. Of power. White hair, cut a little on the longish side, framed his tanned, lined face, and the contrast with his rather light green eyes was startling. "Well, 'Uh-Virginia' --" She blushed in embarrassment at his mockery — "I'm Michael's grandfather, William Wolf. I see you're making yourself at home."

He was smiling at her, a very easy smile that showed off white teeth, but though his words seemed innocuous enough, something in his manner conveyed disapproval. She was beginning to feel very small in front of him, and very much out of place. "Yes, I'm waiting for him to finish his meeting. The secretary said I could wait here, that he'd be done soon." Why did she feel compelled to explain herself?

"Did she. Well...Michael's in a meeting with someone rather important." And I'm NOT? She was getting a little annoyed with the old man's tacit commentary. "I'm sure he'll be along as soon as he's done."

"I don't mind waiting." She smiled at him, trying to look confident, feeling defiant, but suspecting she was a rather insignificant blip on Mr. Wolf, Sr.'s, radar screen.

"Fine. I'll leave you then. Good evening, Miss Lewis." He gave her an almost imperceptible nod, then turned and left.

Well, THAT'S interesting, she thought. I didn't even tell him my last name and he already knew it. Though it was certainly possible Mike had talked about her to his grandfather, she somehow still felt spied on. And he'd tried to intimidate her. She didn't like either feeling.

Virginia went to the doorway, hoping to see Mike, needing his presence to reassure her. But as if to hammer home her discomfort, the next person she saw was Regina. Virginia sighed inwardly as the honey- haired woman slithered toward her, the skirt of her claret-colored dress swishing against impossibly long legs.

"Well," Regina cooed. "It 's Virginia, isn't it?"

Virginia made her voice drip with honey. "Hello, Regina. How are you?"

"Fantastic. And you? You look a little tired. Getting enough sleep lately?"

Virginia smiled. "Not really." She tried to smile in a way that said, "your ex-boyfriend and I are up all night having sex."

The blonde's smile didn't waver. "Too bad. You DO look like you could use a long nap. They have terrific concealers now for shadows under the eyes."

Oh PLEASE! What was this, high school? "Thanks. You'll have to tell me what you use."

Regina smiled. Virginia smiled. She was trying not to feel like a terrier in the presence of a saluki. Why was everyone who worked here so damn TALL?

"Well, I'll be going. You and Michael have a nice time. Don't keep him out TOO late." Regina swished down the hall to her office and pointedly closed the door.

Virginia walked back to the window and looked out, slowly releasing an angry breath. Though Mike's office was an oasis of comfort, filled with reminders of his personality, Thurson/Wolf & Rauthursdottir as a whole was beginning to give her the creeps. All that beige! All those smoky mirrors! Impossibly tall, good-looking people populating every office. That skanky Regina lurking around every turn. And at the top of the food chain, Mike's terrifying grandfather calling the shots. Virginia reflected it must have been difficult to grow up in the presence of such a critical personality. Poor Mike. And his poor father. She wondered if she'd have had the fortitude to stand up to someone like the elder Mr. Wolf. Had Mike ever wanted to rebel? she wondered. Had he wanted this career, this life, or had it been dictated to him? Had he embraced it willingly?

Her eye went to the portrait of the founder on the wall. Even HE looked friendlier than William Benson Wolf. It was amazing, though, how strong heredity could be. All three of them, B.B., William and Mike, had such incredible eyes, able to deliver an amazingly penetrating gaze. Of course, when Mike looked at her, it was a marvelous sensation. With William it just made her shudder.

She looked at her watch. It was going on 7:20. Looking across Sixth Avenue she saw klieg lights set up in front of Radio City Music Hall. Some special show opening, she imagined. It was easy, she thought, this high up in the middle of Manhattan, this island of glass and artificial light and electricity, to forget there were other places on earth, places where the lighting came from the moon and stars, where it was green, where there were trees, where nature was wild, not framed on four sides by concrete. For a moment she felt nostalgic for the wonderful kingdoms of her imagination.

"Sorry! I didn't think we were ever going to finish." Mike tossed papers onto his desk and put his arms around her, sighing, then drawing in a deep breath. "You smell good."

"Thank you."

He kissed her cheek perfunctorily and went back to the desk. "I thought we'd be done about an hour ago, but Reggie found some paperwork this client is going to need to sign, so as long as he was here — but then it dragged on and on --" He plopped down in his chair and leaned back. "I'm fried."

She came up behind him and started rubbing his shoulders. 'If you're too tired to go, I'll take a raincheck --" She tried not to sound disappointed. "No. No. I want to go. I refuse to let this place --" He cut off what he was going to say. An angry crease had formed on his forehead, but as Virginia started rubbing his neck, it gradually lessened. "Aaah, that feels great. But do that a little more and we're never leaving here."

"And what would your grandfather think of that?" she teased.

Mike's furrow came back and he didn't smile. "Screw him." At her startled expression he laughed, a short burst that didn't in the least sound amused. "Never mind. Rough day. Let's go."

As they passed Regina's office Virginia could have sworn she saw a shadow by the door. Spying, so much spying!

They went to a lovely, romantic place for dinner, but Mike seemed distracted throughout. Virginia began to grow tired of carrying the conversation all by herself, but chalked it up to Mike's tiredness. He pushed his food around on his plate absently, smiling at her when she said something amusing, but somehow hot completely present.

They walked up Broadway after dinner. Though she couldn't see him, Virginia assumed Robert was nearby. Mike held her hand, but that same distracted mood still possessed him. Finally she stopped.

"Mike, what's going on?"

"What do you mean?"

She took a breath. Talking about feelings was really a challenge, she thought. "You're...kinda not here tonight. Did something bad happen at work? I mean, more than it being a long day?"

"Virginia, there's nothing wrong. I'm just really tired."

"I know, you said that. But there's something else, I can tell."

"Come on, Virginia." He took a few steps away, then stopped when he realized she wasn't following. "I said it's nothing." He sounded annoyed.

Virginia swallowed. "I had a little conversation with your grandfather." He didn't say anything. "I got the feeling maybe he's been talking to you about me. Is that true?"

"Are you accusing me of something?"

She was stunned. 'Mike, no, of course not! God, why would you think that? It's just, he seemed to know about me, my name, and you seemed angry with him, so I thought --"

"You thought what, that all we do at work is dissect our social lives?" Mike looked really upset and she couldn't figure out what she'd said to trigger his anger. "You might be able to get away with that at the restaurant. Some of us have actual work to do, you know!"

The words came out in a harsh tone she'd never heard him use before. Her cheeks flushed with anger, but then despite herself she could feel herself start to shut down. "I'm sorry," she heard herself say in a little voice, "I didn't mean to..."

"No, I'm sorry. I can't believe I said that to you, that was terrible." Mike closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. She could see he was consciously pulling back from a confrontational stance. "Forgive me?" He touched her face and she nodded, but the sting of his diminishing words was still there. "You're right. I just get mad when he tries to take over my life. There's stuff going on at the office, Virginia — and yes, he did ask me about who I'm spending all my time with. So I told him about this wonderful woman I met, named Virginia Lewis, and I thought he'd --" He looked away. "Forget it. You don't need to hear about this."

"Yes I do, if it's about me." She took his hand again and held it.

"No," he said. "It is, but it's really not. It's about him and me. And my father. It's a lot to take, sometimes. It's--" He stopped abruptly.


"Listen," he said, taking both her hands, 'I think I'm just going to take you home and call it a night, okay?"

She nodded. At this point she knew his mood was counter to a romantic interlude anyway. Hers, too, if the truth be known. He smiled halfheartedly at her and turned back the way they'd come. In a few seconds the car pulled up, Robert at the wheel.

They drove to her house, not saying anything to each other. This time their silence was oppressive, and disturbed her. He walked her to the door, but didn't kiss her goodnight, which upset her more than anything else. As he turned to go Mike said, rather diffidently, "I'll call you tomorrow."

"Goodnight, Mike."

He didn't answer. The car drove away.


She waited until late afternoon to call, hoping he'd call her first

"Thurson/Wolf& Rauthursdottir. How may I direct your call?"

"Oh, hello. This is Virginia Lewis. May I speak to Michael Wolf?"

"One moment, please." The receptionist put her on hold, and music by Yanni filled the earpiece. Virginia frowned, but in a new seconds, much to her chagrin, she was humming along. "I'm sorry, Miss Lewis. Mr. Wolf is out sick today."

"Sick? What do you mean sick? Sick how?"

"I'm sorry, I don't know. He called in earlier and spoke to his secretary."

"Was he feeling sick yesterday?" Her mind flew to their less than happy parting the night before.

"I really don't know, sorry. I'm not the regular receptionist. I'm a temp. A ton of people are out sick. I guess the flu's going around."

"I guess. Well, okay. Thanks." Virginia cradled the phone. Now she felt guilty for her frustration the night before. No wonder he'd been difficult. Must've felt it coming on.

She dialed Mike's number. It rang four times and then there was a click. "Hello."

"Hi, Mike? I heard you --"

"This is Mike. I want to talk to you, but it'll have to be later. So after the beep, leave a message. Thanks." Oh, his answering machine. Where was he?

The beep came. "Mike, it's Virginia. They told me at your office that you were home sick, and I wanted to find out how you are. If, if you can, please call me, because I --"

There was another click. "Virginia?" Mike sounded sleepy, and his voice was thick.

"You're there. Hi. How...are you? They said --"

"It's nothing. Just the flu or something. Sleeping."

"I'm so sorry I woke you up."

"'S okay."

"Can I bring you anything? Medicine? Chicken soup? Me? I could come over --"

"No, I--" He broke off. Virginia could hear labored breathing.


There was an awfully long pause. "I'll be fine." There was that raspy, frightening breathing again.

Virginia frowned. "Are you sure? You don't sound too --"

"Fine! I said I'm fine," he said sharply.

Guilt. I'm bothering him and he feels like hell. "Okay. I'm sorry. Call me if you need anything, promise?"

There was another long pause, during which she heard more of the raspy sound. He really didn't sound good at all. "Mike?"

"Yeah, yeah. Okay, fine. Goodbye."

"Bye." The receiver clicked and he was gone.

Virginia stared at the phone, then began to pace a little. Mike really sounded awful. But he'd been fine last night, he hadn't been sneezing or coughing or anything. She began to get worried. Men are really terrible about being sick, she thought. Either they're complete hypochondriacs like Dad or ridiculous stoics. Either way they don't take care of themselves.

She bit her lip, wondering what to do.


Virginia stood at the door to Mike's apartment, a loft, really, all the way downtown. There was an emptiness to the place that she supposed harkened back to its original purpose as an industrial building. Mike had neighbors, but she'd never seen one. The hallway was empty, and she thought with alarm, if anything really ever happened to him, he could lie here without a soul ever knowing he was alive or dead. The thought made her shudder. She clutched a rather large bag containing a variety of over-the-counter flu medications, Kleenex, Vick's Vaporub and the largest jug of orange juice she could find. She paused, her finger poised over the buzzer. God, I hope this is a good idea. I don't want to be accused of smothering him.

On the other hand, she could always drop off this stuff and leave.

She buzzed. She waited. She buzzed again. She knocked. She waited.

She raised her hand to buzz again, but there was a sound at the door. She looked at the peephole and smiled. There was a sizeable pause before she heard locks turning. The door opened and Mike's face appeared. "Virginia...what are you..."

"I'm sorry. I know you told me not to come, but — I was worried. You sounded terrible."

He looked terrible, too, his skin an unhealthy gray, his eyes dark and feverish. His voice was a scratchy whisper. "I'm all right. You shouldn't be here."

"I'm not afraid of catching the flu. I have pretty good resistance to germs. Look, we've spent so much time together, if I'm gonna catch something from you I have it already. I brought you some stuff from the drug store." She stood in the doorway. "Can I...come in?"

He looked at her, at the bag, shivered and pulled his robe more tightly closed. "I really have everything I need --"

Really! All this fuss! "Come on. Let me be Florence Nightingale. I promise not to stay long. Mike, I like having someone look after me when I'm sick. Don't tell me you don't because I won't believe you."

It seemed he took an awfully long time to decide, but finally he stepped back to let her in. "Okay, but don't say I didn't warn you."

"Consider me warned."

The inside of Mike's loft looked like a wrecking crew had been there. Amazing! In the few days since she'd last been here the place had been completely transformed, and not for the better. The shades were drawn and no lights were on. His clothes from the night before lay in disarray throughout the apartment, couch pillows had been tossed on the floor, dishes of half-eaten food littered the cocktail table and in the bedroom sheets and blankets were half on and half off the bed. Pajama tops matching the bottoms he had on were hanging on a lampshade. "Wow, nice shot, nearly a basket," she quipped, but Mike didn't smile. So this was the "hidden" side of Mike, the slobby side that his cleaning lady kept from the world! The only items she expected to find were not in evidence--the kind of drugstore goods she'd just picked up. A quick look in the bathroom failed to turn them up either. "I thought you said you had everything. You don't have anything — not even Kleenex."

He shrugged.

"When did you come down with this?"

"Last night."

"What is it, sore throat--"

"I just feel like hell. Fever, stomach, you know. Do we have to discuss the gory details?"

"No, of course not. Do you want some orange juice?"

He shook his head. He started to breathe shallowly. "I...need to sit down," he panted. His face was ashen.

"Yes, yes, of course. Sit." He plopped in the bedroom chair, on top of a pair of socks and a newspaper. He was shivering slightly and put his head down for a moment over his knees. She knelt and touched his forehead. "Jeez, Mike, you're a mess."

"I'll be okay." He sat up, drawing in a big breath.

"Maybe you should see a doctor."

"No doctors!"

His vehemence shocked her. "Okay," she said softly. "But just let me straighten up your bed so you can get back in it. Then I'll make some tea. That'll make you feel better." She didn't know if it would, but it was something to do.

She pulled up the sheets and plumped the pillows, and an image from long ago flooded her mind — her mother, before she'd left, fixing up Virginia's bed when she had a sore throat or a cold. A comforting presence, with a cool, soft hand on a little girl's forehead. The bed made, Virginia reached for the pajama tops. They were soaked with sweat. "God, Mike, you really are sick. Let me call a doctor, get you a prescription --"

"Virginia, please, stop --" He swallowed. "I have some medicine. In the cabinet, top shelf."

She went into the bathroom. On the top shelf between razor blades and toothpaste was a small amber-colored bottle with pills inside. "Are these the ones? Little brown pills?"

"Yeah. There should be a few left."

She brought them out with some water. "What are these, exactly? There's no doctor's name or anything."

"Didn't get them from a doctor. Herbal."

Oh, great. Mike was Nature Boy. "Is that a good idea?"

He swallowed the pills and made a face. "Gah. Don't worry. They're not made of poison mushrooms or anything. They work."

She was unconvinced. "Okay, but promise me if you don't feel better tomorrow you'll see a doctor. A real doctor."



"God, what a pain you are, Virginia! Okay, I promise."

"Good. Listen, change your pajamas and get into bed. I'm going to make some tea."

"Yes, Nurse Ratched." He gave her a half-hearted smile and pushed himself up from the chair.

She took the bag into the kitchen and put the orange juice away in the fridge. There were more food-encrusted plates on the counter, and after she put water on to boil, she busied herself clearing them away. She left the dishes in the sink for the invisible cleaning lady. So he sees an herbalist, huh? Okay, then he gets herb tea. She'd bought both black tea and chamomile at the store and put a bag of the latter into a cup, filled it with hot water and a spoonful of honey and went back to the bedroom.

Mike was in bed, but sans the pajamas. "What are you, a nudist?"

"Too hot."

"Whatever. Drink this."

He took the cup and sniffed it. She rolled her eyes. "DRINK it. Then go to sleep."

"You're very pushy."

"I know. Dream about going to see a doctor tomorrow."

"I'd rather dream about you." He sipped the tea but cocked an eyebrow at her.

She smiled. "That's nice. Even when you're delirious you think of me."

He looked up at her with a sly, thoroughly lascivious smile. "It's a big bed. Care to join me?"

"You ARE delirious."

"And you're cruel." He yawned hugely. She took the cup from him and put it on the nightstand next to the pill bottle. He had been looking a little livelier while they bantered, but now just lay back and closed his eyes. "I'm just gonna..." He trailed off.

"Yes, sleep. I'm going to stay here a little, okay?"

He looked too tired to argue. "Okay." He opened his eyes again. "I'm sorry about last night."

"I know. Forget it." She stroked his forehead. Like her mother had done for her. She wondered if Lisette had done the same for him. She must have. Funny how maternal instinct clicked in so, well, instinctively. I wonder what sort of mother I'd be? she wondered, then felt a pang as the thought struck home.

Virginia turned the nightstand light down to low and pulled the chair over nearer to the bed. She sat watching him, hoping he would be okay in the morning. Preparing herself to argue more strongly in favor of seeing a doctor.

Whatever else those little brown pills did, they seemed to relax him, and he fell asleep quickly. Virginia sighed. Tough guy. Shark. Hah. Laid low by a virus. She looked down at Mike's dark head on the pillow and felt a rush of affection for him. Funny, she thought, how that combination of strength and vulnerability plays on both sets of our hormones, the sexual and the maternal, for a potent double whammy. Maternal instinct and libido. A very potent combination, indeed.

It was a little stuffy, so she got up to open the window a crack. She raised a blind, looking out at his tremendous view of New York harbor. Lights twinkled in the darkness and reflected in the water. In the distance she could make out the Statue of Liberty. Beautiful. She looked at her watch. Maybe I'll stay till morning.

She left the shade up and went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea for herself. She carried it back to the chair. Mike had rolled over on his side, dragging the blanket with him, and his naked back was uncovered. Better pull up the covers now that it's cooling off in here, she thought. And — ooh, bonus! I get a nice view of his cute ass, too, while I'm at it! She reached over him for the blankets and stopped. What was –?

She stared at the bed. What was THAT? She bent down.

There was a scar at the base of his spine.

An inch-long crescent-shaped scar, a very old scar, white against his darker skin, a scar right where –


No, no –

Right where a tail would be.

Where Wolf's tail would be.

No. NO!

Her brain reeled. No, this can't be, get a grip, this is reality, this isn't fantasy, he's not, he isn't, he can't, he can't be –

She stepped back, staggering slightly, backing into the window sill, her shadow streaking across the bed from the bright moonlight –


She spun around, staring at the sky.


Full moon.

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