Shay Sheridan - Reality
When the line clicked Virginia held her breath, but once again it was only Mike's answering machine. She hung up before the beep.
She'd been trying to reach him since she got back from Tazer's, after she'd found out the contents of the pills. Mike hadn't answered his phone. Was he out, or just refusing to take her calls? Either way she was worried, about him and about how the morning's conflict would affect the two of them together. She spent the rest of Saturday sitting in the apartment, miserably reliving the events of the day.
Tony had been there when she returned, and she noticed him watching --surreptitiously, sure, but watching all the same --as she made call after call. Probably she should say something, but she really, really didn't want to All through dinner, as Virginia picked at her food, Tony made futile attempts to jolly her out of her mood; later, as she sat blankly in front of the television, not watching, just brooding, she felt her father's gaze on her. By then he had a distressed look on his face, and that made Virginia feel quite guilty, but she had too much on her mind. Dad would have to wait.
But clearly Dad didn't have that same patience. Just as the ten o'clock news came on, the couch dipped as Tony sank down next to her. "Virginia."
She composed her face into neutrality before turning to him. "Yes, Dad?"
"Virginia. You wanna tell me what's going on? You two have a fight?"
"You and Mike. You know, Mike? The guy you're dating? The one I have yet to meet?"
She opened her mouth to reply to the gibe, but then just looked away and nodded.
"A big fight?"
"Oh, Dad, I can't explain it."
"Sure you can."
"No, really, I can't." She got up and walked over to the window.
Tony followed. "He didn't -- do anything to you, did he? Hurt you?"
She smiled at him and shook her head. "No, Daddy. Nothing like that. He has some stuff he won't deal with. Important things. I tried to tell him I understood, but..."
"I wish I understood. Virginia, if this guy has problems, maybe you should forget about him."
"I can't." She turned to him with a look of misery. "I think maybe I...love him."
Tony looked at his daughter and then dropped his head. "Oh, that."
"Honey," Tony began. "See, the thing is, I'm not real good at these things. Offering advice, solving problems. If that's what you need. Maybe that makes me a bad father, but--"
"--No, Dad! How can you think that? You're a great father!"
"Well. At least I'm not a hypocrite. It's not like I had a clue about how to have a normal marriage."
Virginia held her father close, thinking about what he'd told her, how he'd married her mother even though he knew she wouldn't give up her other lovers. Well, maybe he wasn't a bad husband, either; hadn't he stayed with his wife, still loving her, as he watched her descend into madness? "You're a wonderful person, Dad. The best."
"Oh, Honey," he said sadly. "Just be careful. I want you to be happy. I don't want anyone to hurt you."
Virginia hugged him. He felt big and warm and familiar. "I know, Daddy. I love you." She held him a moment and he kissed her on the forehead. "I guess I'll go to bed."
"Sweet dreams, honey."
Virginia went to bed, but her dreams were anything but sweet. All night long her mind was filled with memories of the argument: Mike yelling, upset, dismissing her from his presence. Those were bad enough, but worse was the recurring image of him dead. Her fears that he would inadvertently poison himself with the wolfsbane were so vivid that she woke herself up, heart pounding, tears in her eyes. She had to make him face the truth about himself, to understand what really was going on.
And how could he not be aware of what he really was? That was a question beyond her understanding. All Virginia knew for certain was she had to do something before her nightmares became real.
Sunday morning she tried his number again. Still no answer. She was becoming desperate, and desperation gave rise to the wild thought that she should call his office, even if it was Sunday, because he'd told her that sometimes people at Thurson/Wolf put in weekend hours. Maybe someone would be there and have an idea where Mike was. It was a long shot, but worth a try. She dialed the number.
Mike answered the phone.
It took her a moment to regroup. "Mike?"
There was a pause before he answered. "Virginia, is that you?"
"Yes. I was...oh God, Mike, I'm glad to hear your voice. I...was worried."
"Why would you be?"
She tried to analyze the sound of his voice. Was he cold? Annoyed? It was maddening trying to figure it out over the phone. "I was worried because of the way we left it yesterday. I'm...sorry if I said things that upset you."
"Well..." She heard him sigh loudly. "I'm sorry we had a fight."
That sounded promising. But she had things to talk about and needed to see him face to face. "Mike, could I come over and talk to you, just a for a little while?"
"I have a couple of hours more work here--" He paused again. "All right. I'll let you in."
She hung up and grabbed her things.
It was strange being in the office building on a Sunday. She had to enter through a side door on 49th Street and a tired-looking guard waved her into the service elevator, which seemed to take forever to crawl up to 38. When she got to the office she tapped on the glass doors until she saw Mike come down the corridor to unlock it for her. She stepped into the office and the doors closed noiselessly behind her.
They stood about awkwardly for a few moments. "Let's go back to my office."
"Okay." They walked past doors, some closed, some open. "Are you alone?"
"I am now. A couple of others were in before. It's pretty quiet." He was dressed casually, in a blue oxford shirt, navy sweater and jeans. He looked like he was all right, but there were shadows under his eyes. She imagined there were shadows under her eyes, too.
"How come you're here on a Sunday?"
He walked over to his desk and gestured to a messy collection of files and papers. "Had to catch up on the work I missed Friday." He looked at her pointedly. "When I was out sick."
"That's what I want to talk to you about, Mike."
He started to pile up the files. "Look, Virginia, don't start this crazy stuff again. I've said all I'm going to say on the subject."
"Well I haven't!" Her aggressiveness startled him into silence. "I need to show you something." She unfolded the printout and thrust it towards him. "Do you know what this is, Mike?" He started to read it and wrinkled his brow. "This is what you're taking in those pills of yours. The ones you said were for the 'flu' you had."
His face darkened. "What did you do? What is this?"
"It's a description of what your pills are made of. Did you know what's in them?"
"You had them analyzed? What the hell did you think you were doing?
"Trying to help you--"
"--Don't need your help!"
"Yes you do!" Amazing, terrible, sad, how quickly they were yelling at each other. "It's a kind of poison, Mike. A poison that has unusual properties. Shall I read them to you?" She grabbed the list back from him. "'Aconite--Symptoms of aconite poisoning include: numbness, paralysis of the throat, stomach pain, slowing of the heart, weakness. It seems to me you had all of those symptoms. But there's more. 'It can cause hallucinations, delirium. Or death.' It could kill you. That's what you're taking, Mike, a poison!"
"So what? Every medicine can be poisonous if you take enough of it. Sorry, but I don't buy it!" He started to walk away from her, but not before she saw the panic flare in his eyes. He hadn't known what was in the pills. She was sure of it.
She reached out and grabbed him by one arm, swinging him around to face her. "Listen to me! I know you're afraid--"
"--Afraid? Of what? Don't be silly--"
"--Tell me. Where did you get them?"
"What does it matter?"
"Then why?" Her voice was now a piercing cry and he finally looked at her and held her gaze. "Why do you take them? They don't cure the flu, Mike, you know they don't. So, why? Please tell me truth." She dropped her voice to a whisper. "Please?"
"To--to--" His own voice quavered a little, and he cleared his throat. "To calm me down. They're sedatives."
"Why do you need sedatives?"
"Virginia, I, I can't. Please don't ask me to..." He dropped his eyes.
She held onto his arms. "Please."
"Because, because... All right, okay. You want to know?" He shook himself free of her and started to pace in short, choppy lines. "It's because I'm nuts. Crazy. I have to knock myself out, get unconscious or I might...do things. Bad things. I'm a real mental case, Virginia, and you'll be better off if you leave now and forget you ever knew me." He sat down heavily on the couch, running his fingers through his dark hair over and over again. "Sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I had no right to think... I should have warned you about me."
She followed him, regarding him silently for a moment before sitting next to him. "Mike, you're not crazy."
"Please, Virginia, I've paid shrinks a lot of money over the years to tell me the truth. Too bad they can't seem to help me."
"What do you think is the truth?"
"'Think?'" A bitter smile twisted his mouth. "I know."
She turned his face to look at her. "What's the truth, Mike?"
"You'll think I'm..." He closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them they were dull and his face haggard. "Virginia, I have some sort of psychosis, illness. I... When you called me a wolf I just, I couldn't bear it, because, because that's how I act. I have this sick, twisted idea that when there's a full moon, I am a werewolf or something. I don't know what it comes from. I just know it's been happening since I was a teenager. Other kids got acne, I got... this. I black out, I have terrible, horrible dreams about killing things, people. I wake up and I've torn my place apart. Virginia--you want to know why Cathy left? Because one night I woke up to her screams. I'd bitten her on the shoulder. Bitten her. Drew blood! Completely freaked myself out, not to mention her. I don't know why I let you in the other night. I might have hurt you. That's why I acted so weird. Obviously I was so out of control you thought I might really be a wolf. Which is your issue, by the way."
He started to smile a little at that, but then his eyes filled up and he lay his head back against the couch, not looking at her, not looking at anything. "I've been in therapy for years. I even signed myself into a hospital once, a mental hospital. Do you know what they're like, even the private ones?" His voice caught a little and he breathed in deeply, once, twice. "But no one has ever even put a name to this. So I knock myself out, so I'm incapable of doing anything until the delusion passes. That's why I take the pills. I didn't know how dangerous they were, but I can't believe my grandfather would give me anything that could kill me."
Virginia put a hand on his chest. "Your grandfather gave them to you?"
"Yeah. He knows all about it. Because my father evidently was crazy too, the same way. I used to hear him tearing things up, howling. It was horrible. I didn't know what was going on at the time. I didn't know it was an illness that ran in the family. And you've met my mother." He laughed harshly. "So there's the family secret, Virginia: fucked up genes, from both sides! Why in the world would you even want to know me?"
She looked at him with deepening understanding, wanting to scream at his grandfather, What did you think you were doing? She took a deep breath and reached over. He closed his eyes at her touch. "Mike. Please listen to me and try to accept what I'm going to say. All this time, you've had this delusion, an illness, you say. Your dad had the same problem. I know it's hard to accept, to even imagine, but did it ever occur to you that it might not be a delusion?"
"No. Please, just listen. Do you know what aconite is used for? Or used to be used for? In the Middle Ages, they called it wolfsbane, Mike, and they used it on werewolves, to keep them from changing at the full moon--"
"--What?" he started, his eyes flying open.
"It's true. It's been an herb used for hundreds of years by healers and apothecaries. And witches. All of whom believed it had those properties." She showed him the paper. "It's off the net. I found the same thing on at least half a dozen sites." She watched him read, watched his eyes getting larger and larger, his hands busy, rubbing the paper between finger and thumb until he nearly wore a hole in it. "I know you think that's the stuff of legends. But, but, what if it were true, that there are people who have, um, unique abilities, who are influenced by the moon--"
"--It can't be true. Werewolves don't exist."
"Maybe not the way we think of them. 'The Wolfman,' Lon Chaney, that sort of thing, who get bitten by werewolves and end up in horror movies. No, that's fiction. But maybe there are human wolves. Maybe it's natural for them to be as they are. Maybe the unnatural thing is to try to stop being a wolf."
He was shaking his head. His hands holding the paper were trembling. "I can't believe that. There's no way." "Then ask yourself this: Why didn't your grandfather give you another kind of drug, some other, more usual sedative? There are all sorts of things around. Why something this arcane? Why wolfsbane?
He stared at her with incredible intensity.
She held his eyes, willing him to understand. "What does he know that you don't, Mike? What is the truth?"
He started to breathe in little shallow panicked gasps, and had such a look of alarm on his face that for a moment Virginia feared she'd pushed him over the edge. He dropped his face into his hands. "I don't know. I don't know, I don't know." His shoulders were shaking and Virginia wrapped herself around him, stroking his hair until the shaking stopped. Then she lifted his face to hers and kissed him gently. They clung to each other in a tight embrace. "Oh, God, Virginia, what's real?"
They sat they way for a very long time.
"Virginia..." Mike dropped his head against the back of the couch, pulling her in again tightly within his arm. She stroked his chest slowly, feeling his heart beat rapidly beneath her hand, soothing him. His face rested on the top of her head, and she could hear him breathe as he attempted to regain his composure. "I don't know if I can believe all this. It's...it's too much."
"I know. To let go of everything you're sure of, what you thought was real, to accept such magical notions. I know. Believe me." She looked up at him, noting how the look of panic had not quite left his face. "You will have to confront him, Mike." She didn't need to say who. He understood.
"If I am a, what, what you say I am, then he..."
She finished his thought. "Then he is one, too." He took in a short little breath and his eyes widened. So like Wolf, she thought, suddenly. So like him. Something resonated in a tiny corner of her brain, but she couldn't focus on it, because Mike looked like his world was coming unraveled. And it was, she thought grimly. How could he not have been told? Her anger at William Wolf intensified.
Mike was white-faced; he looked decidedly unwell. "I know this has been a shock. Lie down. I'll get you some water."
"Okay." She stood up and he stretched out lengthwise on the couch, flinging an arm over his eyes, his hand clenched.
"It's a lot to believe, I know." She took the ceramic mug from his desk and went down the hall to the water cooler.
She sipped some herself and then filled the cup again. Poor Mike. Lied to his entire life --how would he ever be able to believe what she was telling him? There was a mirror over the water cooler, and Virginia studied her reflection. Would she have believed it if someone had told her that her entire life was a lie? That she wasn't even really human? His reaction showed a tremendous need in him, a need to explain who he was, to know himself.
She was angry with herself, for being so foolish, thinking of him as a prince who'd rescue her from her dull existence, someone without needs or problems of his own. She'd thought she knew him, but what did she really know? Ever since she'd met him, she'd thought of him as steady, comfortable in his skin, normal. Confident. It was still hard for her to put aside the word perfect. Even in that brief instant in the moonlight when she'd known what he was, hadn't she still imagined a calmness within him that could be envied? A control in how he lived, how he dealt with his secret? She'd been wrong, so wrong. Imagine a life spent never knowing the remotest truth about yourself, a life spent doubting your own sanity.
She doubted she would have survived.
The cup was spilling over onto the polished floor, and she straightened up, making eye contact with herself in the mirror. Mirrors. Always mirrors. Again the little prickle in her mind... The thought stopped, not on its own, but because she suddenly was aware of something reflecting behind her, something colorful. Virginia turned around and looked through a doorway to the office behind her. The office next to Mike's. Regina's office; she'd seen Regina disappear into it the evening of the full moon --oh, Lord! Was that only the day before yesterday?
The lights were on, as they were throughout the suite of offices, and something was catching the light, reflecting back a bright spot of color. The office was lavishly furnished, but her eyes did not rest on the couch or the desk or the sculptures or any of the other expensive things, but on the portrait catching the light on the wall opposite the door. She walked slowly, as if hypnotized, towards the painting. A painting of a beautiful but haughty woman, with golden hair the color of Regina's, a face very like Regina's, perhaps a little stronger, a little sharper. A woman swathed in folds of richly-hued fabric. Red fabric, red from her tight sleeves to her cloak to the gauzy hood that framed her face.
She knew the face. She'd only seen her briefly, at the coronation ball, but her clothes would have proclaimed her identity to anyone. "Red Riding Hood," Virginia breathed.
The cup crashed to the floor, shattering on the marble.
Mike rounded the corner into the office. "What is it? I heard something crash--"
Her hand lifted of its own accord, trembling, her finger pointing at the picture.
"The portrait? That's Regina's great-grandmother. She was named for her."
"I know who she is." Virginia felt lightheaded, and when she spoke it was without inflection. "Where did she get that name, 'Rauthursdottir?' I know what it means. She was too vain to hide who she was. It means 'Red's daughter,' isn't that it? Red Riding Hood's daughter, Red's daughter, Red Riding Hood. And Benjamin Bryson Wolf. The 'founders.' Wolf and Rauthursdottir. Wolf and Red's daughter. Riding Hood, married to B.B. Wolf? The Big Bad Wolf. That's who they were."
She started to laugh and it was such a strange, hollow sound that Mike reached over and shook her. "Stop it! What's wrong with you? You're talking like this is some goddam fairytale--"
At that, her strange laugh became even shriller, and through it the words poured out of her in an emotionless monotone. "It's all true, Wolf and Red, Red and Wolf. I should have guessed, that's who you are, Mike, it's--" Her eyes came back into focus. "Oh my God, Mike, it's real! It's not just you. It's all real. Everything. Red and Wolf and--" She stopped, stunned by what she was saying. Wolf. Wolf WOLF WOLF WOLF!"Oh. Oh, God, Oh my God!"
"What? What is it? Virginia?"
Why hadn't she seen? Why hadn't she understood everything? Obvious, obvious, from that night, the night of the full moon. How could she not have realized? How could she have forgotten? He was the pattern, if--If Mike was a wolf, if Mike existed, if there were wolves, wolves in human form, if Mike, if they, if they were, if there were--- then he, then HE was, then Wolf, WOLF was--
She swayed a little.
"What is it? What's happened?" His own crisis forgotten, he held her shoulders as if she might collapse in front of him.
"I have to, I, I need..." She pulled away suddenly, before Mike could stop her, propelling herself towards the ladies' room. She turned the faucet fully on and scooped handfuls of cold water onto her face. Her heart was pounding. She looked up at her white-faced reflection in the mirror. Mirror. I came through the mirror. I did. I did. Yes. A lie, a fantasy, a truth. Wolves exist. Mike exists. Where did I think he came from? And if he is real, then, then Wolf is real. A equals B, B equals C, therefore A equals C equals XYZ, Q.E.D. I think, therefore I am. No, no, no, control yourself! Wolf, WolfWolfWolfWolf
She closed her eyes and leaned on the sink, feeling faint, breathing deeply, opening her lungs, her mind, her heart. She knew. She'd always known. She just hadn't let herself believe.
"Virginia, are you all right?" Mike was outside the door and she staggered out, seeing him but not really seeing him, and she walked past to lean on the doorjamb of the nearest office. Mike came over to her, touched her on the arm and the touch awakened her to where she was, who he was. "Are you okay?" His voice broadcast concern for her. She threw herself into his chest and hugged him tightly, holding on as if she would fall, squeezing her eyes shut. His arms came up around her. She knew the feel of him, the same but different than Wolf, the softness of his expensive sweater, his face smoother, more freshly shaven. She knew his smell, too, familiar, yet again different, the crisp laundered scent of his shirt, the faintest hint of aftershave, something Wolf would never have dreamed of using. Mike was real, tangible.
Still holding Mike tightly, she opened her eyes.
"Virginia, what's going on?"
"I don't think I can explain, not right now, I need to go, I need to think."
"You can't, how can you, after everything--"
"--Please, Mike, please let me go!" She flung herself away from him and ran for the door.
Mike stood, unmoving, as the glass doors whooshed closed after Virginia. For a moment there was silence, except for the pounding of his heart. And then he became aware, with senses that he was beginning to understand transcended normal, that someone was standing nearby. Startled, he turned. A pale man with blue eyes was slouching in the doorway to the coffee room. "Hunter! I didn't hear you come in."
The smallest possible smile touched the blond man's lips, but did not light up his eyes. "I know," said Hunter Thurson. He looked at the glass doors. "Nice girl. Pretty. You're a lucky man, Mike. I don't know that cousin Regina would be happy knowing she was in her office, though."
Something about his manner irritated Mike. "Let's not tell her, then."
Hunter smirked and nodded almost imperceptibly.
"Have you...been here long?"
Mike noticed the other man was holding a small cell phone. "Why are you here? Doing some work for W.W.?"
"In a way. Your grandfather wants to talk to you."
Mike frowned and started to turn away. "Then he knows where to find me."
Mike turned around. "What is it? Just tell him I--"
Hunter stepped closer, still smiling the artificial smile. "He sent me to get you. Bring you to the house."
He was too close, invading Mike's personal space, and Mike stepped back, despite himself. "Not now."
"Now." Amazing how smoothly Hunter had made the cell phone disappear and a little silver-plated gun appear in its place.
Mike stared at it, not comprehending at first. He looked up at the other man. There was a different look on Hunter's face. A very cold and ruthless look. Mike swallowed but kept his expression impassive. "I don't think he wants you to shoot me, Hunter."
Hunter shrugged, and smiled again. "Let's hope I don't have to, then. I'd hate to lose my job." The little gun jumped impatiently. "Shall we go?"
There was no recourse. Mike started towards the door.